Australia isn’t ready for extreme weather - Climate and Health Strategy urgently needed

20 September 2023

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians says this week’s heatwave is an urgent reminder that the Federal Government must release, implement and fund its national Health and Climate Strategy as soon as possible to ensure Australia’s healthcare system can become more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

The College says finalising and funding the draft strategy, must be expedited as we look down the path of a hot and dry summer.

RACP President, Dr Jacqueline Small says “Climate change is causing extreme weather events across the globe and sadly Australia is not exempt from this phenomenon.

“We have already seen the heatwave this week felt in many parts of the country, and a catastrophic fire warning issued in the NSW South Coast, causing schools to be shut down.

“This is why it is critically important the Federal Government works to quickly roll out its national Health and Climate Strategy so that we have a robust national system to prepare for weather events like this week.

“The Federal Government has prioritised reducing emissions within the healthcare sector, a goal all healthcare professionals support. However, the climate strategy must also ensure the healthcare system is better equipped to handle the ramifications of more extreme weather events.

“The work must begin now to ensure our system does not just cope with a changing environment but can meet the challenges head-on and thrive.”

Earlier this year, the RACP and 12 other Colleges released a joint statement to warn that the healthcare system is not prepared to handle a climate emergency.

The colleges called for the National Health and Climate Strategy to:

  1. Be fully funded and resourced on an ongoing basis.
  2. Have National Cabinet sign-off, to enable urgent, coordinated, and effective implementation of the Strategy.
  3. Be guided by First Nations knowledge and leadership across all aspects of the Strategy through strong partnerships and co-design.
  4. Build healthy and climate resilient communities by mobilising sectors outside of the health system to address the wider determinants of health.

“Medical experts have been urging policy makers to take the risk to the healthcare system posed by climate change seriously,” Dr Small said.

“With the probability of extreme weather events continuing, it is sadly very likely we will see more extreme events like we’re experiencing now.

“We urge the Federal Government to treat this issue with the urgency it deserves. The time to act is now. Finalising, funding and implementing the National Health and Climate Strategy is urgently needed to ensure our health system can cope with the climate emergencies we are now facing.”

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