Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, speech - 3 December 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister Kearney's speech on the launch of Australia's National Health and Climate Strategy.

The Hon Ged Kearney MP
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Good afternoon.



My name is Ged Kearney. I am the Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care in Australia.



I am delighted to be here today alongside so many other nations from around the globe to address the impacts of climate change on health.



I would like to extend my congratulations to the COP28 United Arab Emirates Presidency, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and partners, for hosting the first-ever Health Day.



Climate change and health in Australia



In the last decade, catastrophic floods, devastating fires, and intensifying heat have taken a physical and mental toll on people across Australia.



We pride ourselves on our love of a sunburnt country, however over the last century Australia has warmed an average of 1.47 degrees.



Heatwaves already cause more deaths than any other natural hazard in Australia and the health risks associated with heat exposure will increase as temperatures rise, our population ages, and more people live and work in urban centres.



Australia has long dealt with bushfires however our changing climate has led to more severe weather days and major fires events. Their impact is devasting and far reaching.



Smoke from the 2019/2020 Black Summer Bushfires is estimated to have affected 80% of the Australian population and caused at least 417 premature deaths, more than 3,000 hospital admissions, and more than 1,000 asthma emergency department presentations.



People in Australia are also experiencing poor mental health due to the impacts of climate change and extreme events. Climate anxiety is real - in one study, more than half of Australians surveyed were very or fairly worried about these threats. 



Release of the National Health and Climate Strategy



The Australian Government recognises that there is an urgent need to address the health risks associated with climate change. 



On COP28’s Health Day, I am proud to announce this Australian first. Today, I am releasing Australia’s first National Health and Climate Strategy. 



This is an important day.



For the individuals and communities whose health has already been negatively impacted by the climate crisis. 



For the advocates who have been calling for this National Strategy for so long.



For health workers have been calling for greater support to deal with the effects of climate change.



For the First Nations communities who generously shared their knowledge and wisdom with us.



It’s an important day for the continued global fight against climate change.



For the world today and generations into the future.



This National Strategy sets out an ambitious whole-of-government plan for addressing the health and wellbeing impacts of climate change.



Before I go into some details about what is included, I thought I’d talk about the process by which we developed this National Strategy.



The National Strategy’s consultation process



The National Strategy is a product of the collaborative efforts and ambition of hundreds of dedicated individuals, organisations and experts, all who very generously provided input, feedback and expertise throughout the extensive consultation process we undertook.



As we know, climate change has the potential to impact us all. And, to effectively address the impact of climate change, we need to work together.



Over the past 12 month, we received over 270 written submissions from organisations and individuals across a diverse stakeholder landscape. This includes governments, health service providers, advocacy organisations, academics and manufacturers, as well as health associations and colleges.



We also held a total of 16 workshops and roundtables, and targeted workshops for aged care, disability and primary care, were held, with over 300 attendees.



The National Strategy truly is a shared effort to address a collective problem.



Importantly, our National Strategy draws from the strengths of First Nations cultures by ensuring that their views, expertise, traditional knowledge and ecological and economic values are incorporated. In Australia we are so lucky to be home to the oldest continue cultures in the world. And it is key to our Government that First Nations people are consulted on the issues that affect them.



I would like to thank everyone for contributing to the development of the National Strategy and supporting us in managing health and climate change in Australia.



We need everyone on board.



So, what are some of the key actions you will see coming out of this National Strategy over the coming years?

 

Resilience actions



The National Strategy will inform and guide action by the health system aimed at protecting and promoting population health while adapting to climate change.



It includes a National Health Vulnerability, Capacity and Adaptation Assessment. This assessment will inform the development of Australia’s National Health Adaptation Plan as part of the society-wide National Adaptation Plan.



Alongside this we will aim strengthen the health emergency response to climate-related disasters.



The timing for this could not be more urgent. Back in Australia we are heading into Summer, when there is a strong threat of bushfires and high heat.



Here, primary care will play a vital role - ensuring continued access to a GP, community pharmacy, reproductive healthcare or mental health support, during times of emergency.



Health system decarbonisation



In acknowledgement of the role the health system must play in addressing the climate crisis, the National Strategy will guide the development of a plan to decarbonise the Australian health system.



To do this this, we will publish baseline emissions estimates for the health system, including aged care, with updates to track progress in reducing emissions.



We will also develop a decarbonisation roadmap, taking the opportunity to build on the work of states and territories, to set an ambitious strategic direction.



This roadmap will be supported by new sustainability and climate resilience standards as well as actions across all aspects of health service delivery – from promoting high quality clinical care and identifying emissions hotspots, to reducing emissions from our buildings, transport and across the supply chain.

 

International collaboration



As we all know, the effects of climate change are not bound to nation-state borders. It’s why a key part of the National Strategy is focused around identifying opportunities for knowledge sharing and the development of international standards.



For example, by collaborating with other jurisdictions to align procurement requirements and foot printing standards we can achieve more rapid change, while at the same time minimising the burden on manufacturers and suppliers.



Australia is also committed to supporting our neighbours to protect and promote health in their climate change responses.



In acknowledgment of these commitments, I was pleased to announce that Australia will join the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health. In this we work with the collective power of WHO members states and other stakeholders to realize the ambition set at COP26 to build climate resilient and sustainable health systems.



As I have said throughout this it is only through working together that we can ameliorate our world’s climate and health.  We will also explore how our next Nationally Determined Contribution can highlight our actions to reduce emissions and improve the climate resilience of the health system. 



Health in all policies



Finally, a key objective of this National Strategy is to adopt a ‘health in all policies’ approach, promoting the benefits of emissions reductions across society and adaptation action beyond the health system.



We will work with the states and territories to develop a National Heat-Health Action Plan, promoting a nationally consistent approach to minimising the health impacts of heat.

In partnership with First Nations communities, we will work to address the impacts of climate change on food security and the health of First Nations people. 



We will also work in partnership with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association and with First Nations communities to promote the health benefits of climate-resilient housing and affordable and reliable renewable energy.

 

Conclusion



The National Health and Climate Strategy is the first of its kind in Australia. It represents an important initial step toward the continued advancement of Australia’s climate and health policy. It reaffirms the Australian Government’s strong commitment to action on climate change. 



The National Strategy highlights a beginning, and ahead of us lies the journey of delivering its ambitious programme of work.  



I am greatly looking forward to seeing what we can achieve when we work together not only nationally, but also globally across all nations. 



Thank you.

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