Australian doctors call for Health Minister to attend Paris climate talks

Kids at risk: 88 per cent of climate change-related illness and injuries occur in children under the age of five. Photo: Cathryn Tremain
Lucy Cormack, Sydney Morning Herald, 01/11/15

The "increasingly unmanageable" threat of climate change  on children's health has prompted an open letter from doctors around Australia to the government, calling for Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley to attend the United Nations Paris climate summit this December.

In the letter, from  independent organisation Doctors for the Environment Australia, leading doctors warn of the "health emergency" climate change presents for children, who have the least capacity to act.   

"More bushfires, floods and storms have already had severe and ongoing psychological effects on Australian children," said the letter, which was released on Monday.

"Higher temperatures, which we are now seeing, have been linked to increases in premature births and hospital attendances for infectious diarrhoea, fever, asthma, dehydration and heat exhaustion."

It pointed to governments around the world that have already acknowledged the need to reduce air pollution through the design of "low carbon cities".

"If we do nothing, our children will more likely suffer from infectious diseases, the effects of air pollution and respiratory allergies, and in the longer term, compromised food quality, water scarcity, economic and social disruption and the effects of population displacement.  Beyond two degrees of warming, health impacts threaten to become increasingly unmanageable."

Former Australian of the Year, and signatory to the letter, Professor Fiona Stanley said she strongly supported the call for Ms Ley to go to Paris, because Australia desperately needed a national strategic plan for handling the health impacts of climate change.

"How we will grow our food? How will we deal with extreme weather events? We are a developed nation with a terrific health infrastructure that's second to none in the world. We can show other countries how best to deal with adaptation and mitigation of climate change," she said.

"It's time the federal government and state governments work in partnership to protect our health."

It is not the first warning about the children and climate change from Doctors for the Environment,who called for a greater focus on health risks in the No Time for games: Children's Health and Climate Change report in May this year.

The report revealed that children were already experiencing health impacts, estimating that, globally "climate change is already causing the deaths of 400,000 people per annum and 88 per cent of climate change-related illness and injuries occurs in children under the age of five".

Professor Kingsley Faulkner, AM, chair of DEA and former president of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, said Australia risked remaining "a laggard, rather than a leader on climate change". 

"Australia must prove to the world that it can protect the health of its own citizens in Paris, especially its children," he said.

The 2015 Paris COP21 climate summit will host leaders from more than 190 countries and runs from November 30 to December 11.