Climate increasingly a mainstream health issue

4 September 2019
Sustainable health solutions require a transdisciplinary approach
Sydney has led a new Lancet comment on global warming and health; its publication came ahead of the latest declaration on climate as a health emergency, this time by the Australian Medical Association. Our experts explain why.

The growing impact of climate on human health has prompted the Australian Medical Association to highlight climate change as a human health “emergency”, it was reported this week.

University of Sydney health experts from the Faculties of Medicine and Health and Health Sciences highlight the health issues.

Heat and health: A forthcoming Lancet series

“The elderly, poor, and people with co-morbidities such as cardiovascular disease are the most vulnerable to extreme heat,” says Associate Professor Ollie Jay, director of the Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory, in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney, and lead researcher of the Research Node on Climate Adaptation and Health at the Charles Perkins Centre.

“Air conditioning use offers by far the greatest protection against heat-related illness in a heatwave; however, some one in four Australians do not have air conditioning – and rising electricity prices and the greater likelihood of blackouts associated with Australia’s imminent energy crisis makes the reliance on widespread air-conditioning use in heatwaves even more tenuous.

Owen Franken/Corbis/Getty Images from the Lancet

Owen Franken/Corbis/Getty Images from The Lancet

“Given the undeniable increase in frequency, intensity, and duration of heatwaves in Australia and worldwide, identifying simple, cost-effective, and sustainable ways of cooling has never been more important.”

Associate Professor Jay is the co-author of a new comment piece in The Lancet on global warming and human health, along with Tony Capon, Australia’s first Professor of Planetary Health, at the University.

 “All-time temperature records were set on two consecutive days in late July 2019 in Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium. All-time temperature records were also set in France and the UK, as detailed in our commentary just published in The Lancet.

“According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, seven of Australia’s 10 warmest years since records began have occurred since 2005.” 

The Lancet last month published a comment piece on heat and health, led by the University of Sydney. It foreshadowed a series on global warming and health, which is set to be published next year in The Lancet.


Disasters and mental health impacts of climate change

“Climate change is causing more frequent and intense natural disasters globally and here in Australia,” says Dr Ying Zhang from the Sydney School of Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine and Health.

“Prolonged droughts, cyclones, floods, bushfires and extreme heat events have significantly increased deaths, injuries, infectious diseases and mental illness in Australia,” says Dr Zhang, who is also a board member of Climate and Health Alliance, Global Climate & Health Alliance.

“Australia alone lost more than $1.3 billion each year due to climate-related extreme events over the 2000-2017 period, according to our research.

“Building community resilience is crucial to protect health from climate change, especially for those who are most vulnerable.”  

Insect-borne diseases and green cities

"A changing climate will influence future mosquito-borne disease threats in Australia, with warmer weather in spring and autumn set to extend the mosquito season,” says Dr Cameron Webb from the Marie Bashir Institute of Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity and Sydney Medical School in Westmead.

“More mosquitoes may mean more disease," Dr Webb says.

"We've seen an increasing burden of disease in many regions of Asia and the Pacific due to mosquito-borne disease, especially dengue – this highlights the importance in understanding the role of climate in driving these outbreaks and how best authorities can tackle this ongoing and complex public health challenge.

“Beyond the direct impacts of climate change on mosquitoes, the way we're trying to ‘green’ our cities by installing water tanks and creating wetlands may also inadvertently create opportunities for mosquitoes."


Vivienne Reiner

Media and Public Relations Adviser (Health)
  • Pharmacy and Bank Building A15

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