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Australian life is at risk due to lack of climate policy: expert reports

Australian life is at risk due to a lack of action by the government to address the effects of climate change on health, the researchers warn.

A group of 19 experts from 13 universities and research institutions said Australia had "retreated" and lagged in other developed countries including Germany and Britain when it came to protecting public health from the effects of climate change such as rising temperatures and air pollution.

In the first in-depth report on Australia's progress in addressing health threats to climate change, experts identified risks including malnutrition, heat waves, disease outbreaks, and mental health problems.

And they note that except Queensland, there are no states or territories that have comprehensive and stand-alone policies to help people adapt to climate change and protect their health.

"Overall, we find that Australia is vulnerable to the effects of climate change on health, and that policy lags in this regard threaten Australian life," said the report, published by Australian Medical Journal and The Lancet today.

This report focuses on direct health impacts such as heat wave-related deaths, measures to help people adapt, and the benefits of reducing threats by doing things like having a more sustainable transportation system to help improve air quality.

It also takes a unique view on the impact of climate change on mental health, noting the relationship between the increasing number of suicides and rising temperatures in recent years.

"I think this is an area that we need to focus on," said one of the co-authors of the Associate report Professor Paul Beggs, from Macquarie University, to AAP.

"One of the report's policy recommendations is to do more research in this field to look at the relationship between climate and mental health so that we can deal better."

The report calls on governments of all levels to introduce comprehensive policies to help cities and people adapt to rising temperatures and longer heat waves, both of which are linked to higher mortality rates.

Warmer climates can also affect the spread of salmonella infections and dengue outbreaks, while more frequent droughts and floods can threaten fresh food supplies and the ability of people to eat healthy food, warnings.

Beggs said urgent action was also needed in terms of renewable energy given Australia's dependence on carbon-intensive electricity supplies.

"We were one of the leaders in renewable energy but other countries have now caught up with us," he said.

He suggested perhaps one reason for the lack of policy action in Australia was the decline in media stories about the health effects of climate change and the actions taken by other countries.

The report found a 50 percent reduction in media stories about health and climate change in Australia in the past decade, compared with a 78 percent increase in newspaper coverage worldwide.

"Thus, there is no political involvement with health and climate change in Australia in the same period," he said.


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