Inaction on climate change is costing lives

As we head into another scorching summer, many health professionals anxiously anticipate a surge in heat-related and respiratory illnesses, driven by our warming climate. As temperatures rise, so too does the amount of ground level ozone in our cities and neighbourhoods. The biggest risk this poses for us is the irritation to our airways, making it harder for many people to breathe easily.

It’s not just a problem for children and the elderly – even healthy young people can experience respiratory difficulties from ground level ozone. But the most threatening components of air pollution are those we cannot see. Tiny dirty particles – measuring about 1/30 of a human hair in diameter – can pass into our bloodstream via our lungs, where they risk causing heart attacks and strokes in otherwise healthy people.

While our politicians continue to delay effective action on climate change, people’s health and well-being is being put at risk. Lives are being lost.

That’s why dozens of health groups have joined together and are calling for an urgent national response to the health impacts of climate change. Organisations such as the Public Health Association of Australia, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Australian College of Health Service Managers, and Doctor’s Reform Society have joined the “Our Climate, Our Health” campaign. We’re calling on Health Minister Greg Hunt and the Australian government to implement a national strategy on climate, health and well-being.

Australians are entitled to expect governments to take action to protect their health. In the case of climate change, the health impacts are well understood and they are deadly. It is time our federal government put policies in place consistent with our commitment to the Paris Agreement – our lives depend on it.

Fiona Armstrong is executive director of the Climate and Health Alliance of Australia.