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Over 50 of Australia’s leading health and medical organisations, including the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and HESTA Super Fund, have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling on the federal government to take urgent action on emissions reduction strategies in order to prevent premature deaths and declining health outcomes linked with climate change.

According to health groups, ambitious climate action will “unlock substantial benefits from a healthier and more prosperous society”. Air pollution from fossil fuels kills 5,700 Australians each year, with the bushfires of 2019-20 killing 33 people directly and sending thousands to hospital due to ill effects from smoke pollution, they state.

The open letter is calling for three key actions from the federal government:

  1. Prioritise health in Australia’s Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement.
  2. Commit to decarbonising the healthcare sector by 2040, and establishing an Australian Sustainable Healthcare Unit.
  3. Implement a National Strategy on Climate, Health and Wellbeing for Australia.

Signatories of the letter include major stakeholders in Australia’s largest economic sector: health and social services, which employs over 1.5 million people, Climate and Health Alliance Executive Director Fiona Armstrong said.

“We are collectively urging the government to heed these calls to avert an escalating health crisis from climate change,” she said.

“The Australian government has an opportunity to reverse Australia’s reputation as a climate laggard by committing to bold ambitious action to reduce emissions, and be part of delivering unprecedented economic and health gains for our nation and the global community.”

The list of 58 signatories includes the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, the Climate and Health Alliance, and the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA).

The open letter was also sent to Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor, Health Minister Greg Hunt, Environment Minister Sussan Ley, and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.

NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the union expected governments to make responsible decisions to protect the health of all citizens, as demonstrated during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our government can no longer bury its head in the sand and refuse to address the climate health emergency,” Mr Holmes said.

“We are committed to protecting the health and wellbeing of nurses and midwives and this extends to the communities they live and work in. Many communities are still recovering from devastating floods, catastrophic bushfires or prolonged drought, which have significant health implications – from air pollutants through to mental health impacts.

“While many of us are cutting emissions or embracing sustainable healthcare, our government is shirking its responsibilities. Too many lives have been lost or put at risk. It’s time our decision makers act to protect people’s health, by acting on climate change.”

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven said the letter demonstrates the health sector’s commitment to addressing climate change, and that it was time national leaders matched the commitment.

“Climate change significantly impacts the health of all Australians, the broader health system and the global community. We witnessed first-hand the direct and indirect impact it has during the Black Summer bushfires and again this year during the NSW floods.”

Read the open letter here

View the full list of signatories here