AAMRI Position Statement on climate change and its impact on human health

AAMRI Position Statement on climate change and its impact on human health

1st June, 2021

This statement sets out the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes’ (AAMRI’s) policy position with respect to climate change and its negative impact on human health. 

There is an abundance of evidence showing our climate is changing at a rapid rate [1]. Over the last 50 years, enough carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have been produced by human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, to trap additional heat in the lower atmosphere, resulting in changes to the global climate [2].

This has resulted in extreme weather events becoming more intense and frequent, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and changing precipitation patterns. In 2019, the WHO declared climate change as one of the world’s greatest public health risks [3].

Australia is already experiencing the impacts of climate change [4]. CSIRO data shows that since 1910, Australia’s climate has warmed by about 1.4°C, resulting in increasing frequency of extreme heat events. The seven years from 2013 to 2019 all rank among the nine warmest years, with 2019 being our warmest year on record. Without climate mitigation and adaptation actions these climatic changes are set to significantly impact human health.

Current projections show that without adaptation actions, heatwave-related deaths will increase between three- and six-fold in Australia between 2031 and 2080, compared to the period between 1971 and 2020 [5]. The more frequent and widespread heatwaves will increase the risks of heat stress, heat stroke, dehydration, and mortality.

More frequent and intense bushfires will increase direct risks of burns, smoke inhalation, heat stress and dehydration as well as trauma and long-term mental health impacts [6]. More extreme rainfall events will result in flooding and storm surges, increasing the risks of injury, and communicable disease transmission [7]. These, along with more frequent, prolonged, and widespread droughts will significantly and adversely impact mental health.

Preventing the negative impacts of climate change on human health requires actions to address both the causes and the impacts of climate change. Failure to mitigate, prepare for and adapt to these challenges may result in potentially catastrophic health and economic outcomes. 

With the world’s sixth-largest land mass spanning a wide variety of climates, Australia faces a unique combination of climate-related health challenges.

AAMRI has an important leadership role within the medical research sector and has identified four policy priorities which it will focus on with members and other stakeholders. 

    1. Provide practical advice to medical research institutes on how to reduce, and ultimately aim for net zero, carbon emissions.
    2. Promote the benefits of, and encourage member institutes to adopt, environmental, social and governance principles when making financial investment decisions.
    3. Work with research funders, organisations, and consumers to encourage increased research and investment in health and medical research areas that directly respond to the potential impacts of climate change.
    4. Ensure climate change is seen as a key priority and cross-cutting theme across all its own policy and advocacy work.