Changes in the Earth’s climate system are inextricable from their effects on human health. Indeed, a commission by The Lancet in 2009 recognised climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century” and the World Health Organization has described climate change as “the defining issue” for public health. Above and beyond the minimisation of climatic hostility, actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change have substantial health benefits. Meaningfully addressing the causes and implications of climate change is a momentous opportunity to improve the health of communities globally.
What’s Code Green?
Code Green aims to provide a platform from which medical students and doctors can educate, engage and inspire colleagues and the wider community to act now to prevent the worst health consequences of climate change.
In acting through Code Green, Australian medical students and doctors join an international community of health leaders taking action on climate change. In 2015, Code Green shall be focusing on two key action areas:
- The Climate Change and Health advocacy campaign, focusing on the build up towards negotiations in Paris in December 2015.
- Personal and organisational fossil fuel divestment.
What are the health impacts of climate change?
Human health, an interaction between our genetics and our environment, is inseparable from the climate in which we exist. The health effects of climate change are thus many and varied, direct and indirect. A Global Humanitarian Forum report, chaired by Kofi Annan, estimated that 300,000 people die a year as a result of human induced (anthropogenic) climate change, a figure that will rise, at a very conservative estimate, to at least 500,000 people by 2030. Present health issues arising as a product of inequality and inequity stand to be exacerbating, with most devastating effects for those communities with pre-existent vulnerabilities. Primary health threats include an increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, bushfires, storms and floods. Secondary health threats are associated with the health impacts resulting from changing ecosystems, including changes in the distribution of many vector- and arthropod-borne illnesses, reduced air quality leading to respiratory illness, decreased agricultural production capacity which can result in malnutrition and famine. The tertiary health impacts are the flow-on effects of these impacts on society, including water and sanitation issues, mass displacement and migration, conflict and exacerbations in mental health burden.
How can action on climate change improve health?
Many of the systemic contributors to climate change can be explicitly illustrated as direct influences on existent health issues. The benefits of interrupting drivers of climate change include reductions in non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, hypertension, stroke, lung disease, dementia and depression. Profound benefits to communities can be derived through developments in areas of transport (especially public transport, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure) , sustainable and equitable agriculture, the consumption of less animal products (within recommended proportions), renewable electricity generation, intelligent urban design and increased efficiency in energy use.
What can we do?
The international community has a vast array of tools at hand to effectively tackle climate change. What is needed now is redefinition of the status quo in such a way that recognises the importance of the climate to human health and wellbeing, and unequivocal political support for restructuring systems to care primarily for people, rather than profit.
Taking action now will improve global public health by reducing the risk of negative health impacts of climate change. We can prevent much of the worst health effects of climate change by taking action to avoid what we cannot manage (mitigation – reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and manage what we cannot avoid (adaptation – preparing for changes that are already set in motion).
It is in line with the Hippocratic oath “first do no harm”, that the medical professional plays an active role in preventing damage to communities by being effective advocates for action on climate change. Current medical students will be doctors practising in the middle of the 21st century, when we will be experiencing the full extent of the health impacts of the changing global climate. In addition, policy decisions made presently will determine the types of cases current medical students will see throughout their medical careers. Thus, the health sector must be active advocates in the area of climate change and its impacts on health, considering the health co-benefits of adaptation strategies. Indeed, climate change mitigation strategies should be seen as opportunities to enable communities to achieve greater quality of life.
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Climate change is a global health threat of unprecedented magnitude, that stands to exacerbate and exaggerate all existing health issues. The Climate Change & Health Campaign (CCHC) is designed to ensure that the Australian government recognises climate change as a threat to the health of Australians and thus commits to ambitious targets at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) on Climate Change. AMSA’s advocacy and engagement seeks to ensure medical students are at the frontline of calls to minimise these health risks.
- The Lancet declared the ‘climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century’ and the World Health Organization has also recognised climate change as one of the greatest challenges of our time.
- A Global Humanitarian Forum report estimated that 300 000 people die a year as a result of human induced climate change, a number that has been estimated to rise to 500 000 people by 2030.
- The direct and indirect negative effects of climate change on health are increasing and need to be prevented from continuing or worsening.
- Australia’s actions to date regarding climate change issues is controversial at best with Prime Minister Abbott reaffirming his support to coal rather than being concerned with what “might happen in 16 years time”.
- Climate Change is not only often neglected by Australian politicians but rarely considered to be a health debate
- A new climate agreement, binding from 2020, is to be decided at negotiations held at the COP21 in Paris in December 2015.
Educate the medical community, from medical students to practitioners; about the implications of climate change for health.
Engage medical students to campaign for strong targets by the Australian government at COP21, reflecting the desperate need for action on climate change to protect human health.
Advocate for and support advocacy efforts by medical students concerned about policies and government actions relating to climate change that harm health.
Liaise with health organisations and politicians to ensure knowledge of the immense concern for climate change by the medical community
- COMMITMENT TO AMBITIOUS TARGETS AT COP21
The recent negotiations in Lima (COP20) resulted in a call for action, outlining the key aspects of a possible Paris agreement (summary courtesy of Guy Ragen). It is imperative that the Australian government commit to strong action to reduce the burden of climate change domestically and internationally. Mechanisms for mitigating and adapting to climate change correlate to positive health outcomes, and thus it is essential for world leaders to support and commit to ambitious greenhouse gas emission targets at COP21.
- SUPPORT OF GLOBAL ENDEAVOURS TO REDUCE THE BURDEN OF CLIMATE CHANGE
As a nation with high per capita emissions and one of the world’s most competitive economies, Australia must be an active part of global efforts to reduce the burden of climate change.
- Empower medical students to be vocal advocates for the health and welfare of their communities by calling for meaningful responses to climate change
- Hold events targeting the medical community to raise awareness of the gravity of climate change in respect to health
- Communicate with medical schools and hospitals in regards to supporting endeavours to support reduction of the burden of climate change
- Ensure that broad public discussions are cognisant of the enormous human costs of unmitigated climate change
- Influence a reframing of political climate change discussions as a matter of great urgency with regards to public health
- Actively engage with politicians, through phone calls and face to face discussions, regarding concerns of the medical community about climate change
- Demonstrate to the world the Australian medical community’s concern with climate change
How to get involved
- Be a voice for CCHC by joining the campaign
- Contact your local Code Green representative or AMSA Global Health Representative
- Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter
- Follow our blog
- Talk to your friends, family and anyone who will listen about your concerns
- If you would like to get involved further as a medical student, please contact the CCHC internal coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you are a business and would like to sponsor events, please contact the CCHC internal coordinator at email@example.com
- If you would like to get involved further as a medical professional, as a hospital or practice or as a health organisation, please contact the CCHC external coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you have any general concerns please feel free to contact any of the core CCHC team using details provided under the CCHC Team section