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Lives at risk from lack of climate policy



Australian people are at risk because of the lack of action by government to address the health impacts of climate change, researchers warn.

The group of 19 experts from 13 universities and research institutes say Australia has gone "backwards" and lags other developed countries including Germany and Britain when it comes to protecting people's health from the effects of climate change such as rising temperatures and air pollution.

In the first in-depth report on the onslaught of climate change health threats, the experts identify risks including malnutrition, heatwaves, disease outbreaks, and mental health problems.

And they note that except for Queensland, no state or territory has a comprehensive, stand-alone policy to help people adapt to the climate change and protect their health.

"Overall, we find that Australia is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on health, and that policy threatens Australian lives," says the report, published by the Medical Journal of Australia and The Lancet on Thursday.

The report focuses on direct heat effects such as heatwave-related deaths, and the benefits of mitigating the threats by doing things like having more sustainable transport system to help improve air quality.

It also takes a mental health, noting a link between a growing number of suicides and rising temperatures in recent years.

"I think this is an area we need to focus on," one of the report's co-authors Associate Professor Paul Beggs, from Macquarie University, told AAP.

"One of the recommendations is to do more research in this area to look at the relationship between the climate and mental health so we can cope better."

The report calls on governments of all levels to introduce comprehensive policies to help cities and people adapt to rising temperatures and longer heatwaves, both of which are associated with higher mortality rates.

A warmer climate can also affect the spread of salmonella infections, and more frequent droughts and floods can threaten fresh food supplies and the ability of people to eat a healthy diet, it warned.

Assoc Prof Beggs said urgent action is also needed in terms of renewable energy given Australia's heavy reliance on carbon-intensive power supplies.

"We used to be one of the leaders in terms of renewable energy but other countries have now overtaken us," he said.

He proposed a reason for a lack of policy action in the effects of the effects of climate change and measures taken by other countries.

The report found a 50% reduction in media stories about health and climate change in the last decade, compared to a 78 per cent rise in newspaper coverage worldwide.

"Related, there has been an absence of political engagement with health and climate change in the same period," it said.


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