One of Australia and New Zealand’s largest medical colleges, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), has declared climate change as a national public health emergency – urging all Governments to take action to implement a national climate change strategy.
The call comes on the back of conditions in NSW where bushfire smoke has caused air pollution to soar to more than 10 times the level which is known to be hazardous to health, and a severe heatwave is predicted and expected to impact many parts of South-Eastern Australia this week.
Serious impact on public health
RACP Fellow and public health physician, Dr Kate Charlesworth said that climate change is already having a serious impact on public health – and it’s time that the government implemented a national health strategy to manage the impacts of climate change on public health.
‘Forecasts for the next week across South East Australia indicate extreme heat of 45+ degrees Celsius will impact many areas over a number of days, potentially including major population centres. So it’s important for people to be prepared for this.
‘We encourage the public to take extra precautions this week in protecting themselves from the heat and smoke by staying hydrated and keeping updated with air pollution ratings, and stay indoors when necessary.
Children, elderly, and ill at higher risk
‘Children, the elderly, and anyone with pre-existing health problems are at a much higher risk under the heat and smoke conditions – so we’re urging them to take extra care.
Dr Charlesworth said that climate science tells us that these heatwaves are expected to increase in frequency and severity over the coming decades. ‘Left unchecked, climate change will worsen food and water shortages, alter the distribution of infectious diseases, and increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.
‘These conditions are already having serious consequences for public health and wellbeing.
‘The climate health crisis is right in front of us now – it’s urgent that our Governments act.’