Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Becoming Environmentally Sustainable in Healthcare: An Overview

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Becoming Environmentally Sustainable in Healthcare: An Overview

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the industrial revolution (around 1750) there has been exploitation of fossil fuels for energy production. This use of fossil fuels has resulted in a substantial increase in the concentration of the atmospheric greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.1 After much dispute, there is now an almost unanimous consensus within the scientific community that the rising concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gasses is catalysing climate change, through disruption of the natural carbon cycle, which is causing global warming.2 The adverse effects of severe weather events due to climate change will undoubtedly have an impact on human health, particularly on the health of vulnerable people in society: the very young, the poor and the elderly.3-5

Health effects of climate change

The recent 2014 International Panel on Climate Change synthesis report notes that since 1950 there have been a rise in sea levels, increased warm temperatures and increasing extreme rainfall in some areas, with human influence being a likely factor.6 As a consequence of changes to fundamental physical systems, there are several adverse effects on human health.4 First, an increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events leads to an increase in mortality and illness from thermal stress, and from increasing occurrence of natural disasters, such as fire storms, drought, prolonged dryness and floods, all affecting the physical and mental health of communities.7 Second, changes to ecosystems lead to increased microbial proliferation and changes in vector-pathogen-host relations, resulting in a loss of crops, livestock and decreased fishery yields, affecting livelihoods and leading to impaired nutrition through decreased food security. In combination and alone, these factors affect physical and mental health.4 Additionally, the adverse effects of continued reliance on fossil fuels contributes to decreased air quality. These factors as solo entities and in combination result in climate change being one of the greatest problems facing the human species, with an increasing burden of disease, injury and poverty for the already vulnerable and disenfranchised members of our populations.8-13

Australian climate change policy

In Australia, a country already subjected to extremes of climate, there are geographical areas where ecosystemshave been identified as under threat, for example, the GreatBarrier Reef, Alpine regions and the Murray-Darling river system.14 Australia's vast, arid landscape means populations are at risk as a result of climate change. For example, small scattered inland communities have been experiencing prolonged drought, and conversely, large populations in coastal regions are being overwhelmed by flooding.15

Internationally, in recognition of the urgent need to tackle climate change, an international treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, was developed in 1997 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Kyoto Protocol commits industrialised countries to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 5% from 1990 levels. On the 3 December 2007, Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol, thereby pledging to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 5% by 2012.16 However, the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has ended and as yet, the Australian Government has not signed up for the second commitment period.

Nationally, the Carbon Tax policy was abolished on 17 July 2014,leaving Australia with a lessvisible suite of policies relating to climate change and carbon reduction.17 However, the current Abbott government has released a Green Paper for a 'Direct Action Plan' which would retain the commitment for a 5% emissions reduction as well as a 20% increase in renewable energy by 2020.18 One of the main components of this policy isthe'EmissionsReductionFund'.The fund detailswerereleased in a White Paper on 24 April 2014, (http://www.environment. gov.au/resources/emissions-reduction-fund-white-paper, cited October 2014). …

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