We must make this a climate change election for the sake of our children

| May 17, 2019

Climate change is the greatest threat that humanity has ever had to face, and it is children who will pay the biggest price with their health.

The effects on our health and wellbeing are unequivocal and key health organisations around the world, including the World Health Organization, have declared global warming a public health emergency.

Health practitioners see the reality of extreme weather events- floods, drought, heatwaves and bushfires- on public health in our surgeries and emergency departments. We are petrified of the potentially catastrophic risks escalating climate change will have particularly on children, whose bodies are far more vulnerable.

Doctors have a duty of care to speak out whenever public health is threatened. We have spoken out in the past against tobacco and asbestos, and now we are speaking out about the dangers of climate change.

Last month, a coalition of health organisations wrote an open letter to political parties and candidates calling for urgent action to address climate change,  the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) issued a declaration to 500,000 family doctors around the world on the health impacts of human-caused environmental change, while Australian doctors declared a climate health emergency.

So far, our political leaders have chosen to ignore the health voice crying out for leadership and action.

Last week doctors published an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition leader Bill Shorten in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age  to draw their attention to the stark fact that it is our children who will pay the biggest prize with their physical and mental health, if we do not act now to stem the threat of potential catastrophic climate change.

The open letter to the leaders of our major parties is part of the No Time for Games campaign, organised  by medical group Doctors for the Environment Australia.

The campaign is endorsed by major medical colleges including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), the  Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), the Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians (ACSEP) and the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA).

The Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), which includes nursing and allied health professionals, as well as more than 2000 practitioners have supported it. Rural GP of the Year 2017 Dr Amanda Bethell, Senior Australian of the Year 2019, Paediatrician Dr Sue Packer OA and Professor Fiona Stanley AC  among others have also signed on in support.


Members from Doctors for the Environment today also hand-delivered these pledges  to the electorate offices of both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten.


Children’s bodies are not “little adults”. Their bodies are still developing, making them far more vulnerable to  extreme weather – heat waves, air pollution, bushfires, floods and droughts. They  are also more susceptible to increasing threats from vector-borne diseases such as dengue, and infectious diseases including typhoid and melioidosis. Air pollution, which will worsen with climate change, poses significant risks to their health as will water shortages and food insecurity.

Not only do children’s bodies respond differently, they have many more years of exposure to potential harms. Under a catastrophic climate scenario, many life years and indeed many lives are predicted to be lost. In short, children, who have least contributed to the problem, stand to lose the most.

Last year’s release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report by international climate experts gave the global community a blunt warning that we have less than 12 years to take urgent action to reduce greenhouse gases to avoid “catastrophic” climate change.

Where is Australia’s plan to reduce this country’s rising emissions and protect children’s health?

The technical and economic solutions exist, what is lacking is political will. To protect our children and their future, we must take politics out of climate change this federal election and place their health front and centre.  This is the mandate doctors together with other health professionals across the nation are giving to our political leaders in government.

There is no time for games, only time to act.  Will you join us?