Heat_wave_By Instant Vantage [CC BY-SA 2.0 (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Heat exposure now more deadly than any other natural disaster

Embargoed until: Publicly released:

Heat exposure is more lethal than any other natural disaster and is Australia’s greatest climate-related health burden, according to Aussie experts. They argue that health services must adapt to this shifting burden.

Journal/conference: Medical Journal of Australia

Organisation/s: The Australian National University, ,Médecins Sans Frontières

Media Release

From: Medical Journal of Australia (MJA)

HEALTH BURDENS OF CLIMATE CHANGE IN AUSTRALIA

THE evidence for climate change has been around for over a century, and the implications for human health, particularly in Australia, are clear and imminent, according to the authors of a narrative review published online today by the Medical Journal of Australia.

Dr Elizabeth Hanna, from the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, and Associate Professor Lachlan McIver, Medical Advisor for Infectious Diseases, Epidemic Response and Antimicrobial Resistance with Médecins Sans Frontières, wrote that “human interference in the global climate is now apparent”.

“Over the past 150 years, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have risen rapidly from a 12 000 year stable range between 180 and 280 ppm to 410 ppm, a level not seen since the Pliocene (5.3–2.6 million years ago).”

Despite increasing awareness of the need to reduce emissions, the problem is growing worse.

“By 2017 emissions had not yet stabilised. Over the past two years, global emissions have continued to increase at a record rate of almost 3 ppm per year. This is more than 100 times faster than when the last ice age ended,” Hanna and McIver wrote.

Australians are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change, the authors wrote, with extremes of heat the most dangerous effect.

“Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth and has the greatest variability of rainfall of any country. Further, Australia’s average daily temperature is 13.7οC warmer than the global average of 8.1 οC and is getting hotter, with newly observed hot-to-cold temperature records now at a ratio of 12:1.”

“Heat exposure is more lethal than any other natural disaster and represents Australia’s greatest current climate-related health burden,” the authors wrote.

Heat and drought increased fire risk, with climate change effects on Australia’s rainfall variability leading to increased droughts and floods, risks of more intense tropical cyclones, and food and water insecurity, leading to a higher disease burden from infectious and possibly vector-borne diseases, including Ross River virus and dengue fever.

"Australia’s climate is changing. Adaptation is required and, perhaps more importantly, mitigation to avoid the worst of future health burdens,” Hanna and McIver concluded.

“A realignment of health services to address the shift in disease burden is required to secure Australia’s current high level of health care.”

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The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

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