Climate is important to health and wellbeing, especially where climates are extreme and particularly variable, as in Australia. Despite having one of the world’s best health systems, the health of Australians is highly vulnerable to the country’s climate and weather extremes — exemplified by their direct impacts, as in the case of heatwaves, and the world’s largest epidemic thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne in November 2016.

Australia therefore needs a detailed understanding of and suite of health and wellbeing-related responses to the impacts of climate change.

The Australian Countdown report is the first to examine Australia’s broad progress on climate change and human health, including its social, economic and political determinants, and progress towards mitigation and adaptation.

Global assessments have shown the impact of climate change on human health. Over the past decade, The Lancet and University College London have led a series of global assessments which have made clear the magnitude of the threat that climate change poses to human health.

These assessments have also emphasised the corresponding opportunity to actively address this challenge, and most recently, the Lancet Countdown began tracking progress on health and climate change, to be repeated annually through to 2030. This is consistent with the near-term timeline of the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement builds on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and, for the first time, brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

Overall, the inaugural Australian Countdown finds that Australia is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on health, and that policy inaction in this regard threatens Australian lives.

In a number of respects, Australia has gone backwards and now lags behind other high income countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom. Examples include the persistence of a very high carbon-intensive energy system in Australia, and a slow transition to renewables and low-carbon electricity generation.

However, the inaugural Australian Countdown also finds some examples of good progress, such as heatwave response planning.

Given the overall poor state of progress on climate change and health in Australia, we now have an enormous opportunity to take action and protect human health and lives. Australia has the technical knowledge and intellect to do this, and the annual updates of the Australian Countdown assessment will track our engagement with and progress on this vitally important issue. 

  • Paper: Zhang et al. The MJA-Lancet countdown on health and climate change: Australian policy inaction threatens lives. Med J Aust 2018; 209 (11): 474. || doi: 10.5694/mja18.00789