Health experts demand action on climate change

Burnet Institute

25 October, 2018

Coal power plant image by Arnold Paul, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Burnet Institute Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC is among 22 eminent Australian scholars and health experts demanding the Federal Government phase out coal by 2050 following its rejection of a United Nations (UN) report warning that the world has 12 years to limit a climate change catastrophe.

In a stinging statement published today by The Lancet, the Australian health professionals declare the Government’s “contemptuous dismissal” of the IPCC report, including a recommendation to dramatically reduce coal power by 2050, “unacceptable”.

The group, including Nobel Laureates Professors Peter Doherty AC and Tilman Ruff AM, Professor Fiona Stanley AC, Professor Alan Lopez AC, and leading millennial and indigenous health leaders, says it’s shocked by the Government’s repudiation of 90 experts from 40 countries who referenced more than 6,000 scientific reports.

“It is not just the wanton dismissal of the collective view of the world’s best experts that is shocking, but that it involves an issue that poses a catastrophic threat to the planet,” Professor Crabb, said.

“The scientists say we only have one chance to avert the worst of the crisis and that involves immediate strong action across the globe. It is utterly reckless to ignore that warning. It is very unusual for me to speak out in this way, but this issue has crossed a line.”

Professor Lopez’s group, the International Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Global Burden of Disease (GBD), says that air pollution from coal burning is responsible for numerous health problems. The GBD estimated that in 2016 around 2.5 million deaths worldwide were due to burning solid fuels including coal.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that unprecedented social change was needed to achieve a global reduction in carbon pollution of 45 per cent by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The IPCC report warns the world risks ‘tipping points’ if warming is allowed to reach two degrees Celsius, setting a course towards uncontrollable and potentially catastrophic temperatures.

Professor Tony Capon from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health said, “climate change is already harming health in Australia and around the world by amplifying the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, bushfires, droughts and tropical storms”.

“The Australian Government needs to take climate change much more seriously. For the sake of the health of our children, and future generations of Australians, the government simply must act urgently and decisively.”

Lancet statement’s five-point call to action

“We are dismayed by the implications of our government’s ongoing stance to disregard the consensus of the world’s leading climate scientists, the precautionary principle, and any idea of duty of care regarding the future wellbeing of Australians and our immediate neighbours,” the Lancet editorial notes.

“Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter … and The Global Burden of Disease estimated that in 2016 around 2.5 million deaths worldwide were due to burning solid fuels including coal.”

The authors call on the Australian government to move away from energy sources that harm human health and the planet, and towards renewable energy, and also commit to:

  • No new or expanded coal mines, and no new coal-fired power stations
  • Phasing out existing coal-fired power stations and scrapping subsidies to fossil fuel industries
  • Increasing the national renewal energy target to at least 50 per cent by 2030
  • Developing economic transition plans for communities affected by the phasing out of fossil fuel industries
  • Supporting Pacific island nations to prepare for and adapt to climate change.

“As with other established harms to human health (e.g. tobacco) narrow vested interests must be countered to bring about fundamental change in burning coal and other fossil fuels,” the authors write.

“As Australian health professionals in clinical medicine, public health, research, and education, we ask national and international communities to support these calls on our government.”

The signatories to the editorial are:

Kerry Arabena, University of Melbourne
Fiona Armstrong, Climate and Health Alliance
Helen Berry, University of Sydney
Peter Brooks, University of Melbourne
Tony Capon, University of Sydney
Brendan Crabb AC, Burnet Institute
Alessandro Demaio, Eat Foundation
Peter Doherty AC, Nobel Laureate, University of Melbourne
Sharon Lewin, Doherty Institute Selina Lo, The Lancet, University of Sydney Alan Lopez AC, University of Melbourne
Celia McMichael, University of Melbourne
Barbara McPake, University of Melbourne Rob Moodie, University of Melbourne
Terry Nolan, University of Melbourne
Tilman Ruff AM, Nobel Laureate, University of Melbourne, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
Peter Sainsbury, Notre Dame University Sydney
Linda Selvey, University of Queensland, Royal Australasian College of Physicians
David Shearman, University of Adelaide, Doctors for the Environment Australia
Fiona Stanley AC, University of Western Australia
Nicholas Talley AC, University of Newcastle, Medical Journal of Australia
Nick Watts, Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Director and CEO; Co-Head Malaria Research Laboratory; Chair, Victorian Chapter of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)




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