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How The Climate Change 'Health Emergency' Will Kill Us Faster

Climate change has been declared a "health emergency" by the Australian Medical Association.

Heat-related illness, severe weather events, declining food production and even poor mental health were all listed by the AMA Federal Council as having a significant impact on human health and wellbeing.

"[We recognise] climate change as a health emergency, with clear scientific evidence indicating severe impacts for our patients and communities now and into the future," a motion from the Federal Council said.

It noted that vulnerable populations would suffer the "earliest and most severe" health consequences.

Townsville during recent floods. Photo: AAP

The AMA joins health organisations from around the world -- including the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association -- in recognising climate change as a health emergency.

The evidence that climate change is real is "irrefutable" said Dr Tony Bartone, AMA President.

“The scientific reality is that climate change affects health and wellbeing by increasing the situations in which infectious diseases can be transmitted, and through more extreme weather events, particularly heatwaves," he said.

“These effects are already being observed internationally and in Australia. There is no doubt that climate change is a health emergency.

Heat stress

Australia-specific effects of climate change have already been observed. The AMA said there are "significant" linear associations between exposure to higher temperatures and greater mortality in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Heat stress -- the inability for the body to cool itself and maintain a healthy temperature --  will cause high mortality and morbidity rates, as temperatures around the world rise.

At least 2177 people have died from extreme weather events in Australia between 1900 and 2017. The increasing number of severe weather events expected with climate change will cause more injuries and deaths than ever before.

A bushfire burns at Hepburn, Victoria. Image: Facebook / Campbell's Creek Fire Brigade
Disease

The transmission of vector-borne diseases -- parasites, viruses and bacteria carried by living organisms such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, lice and rodents -- will increase with climate change.

According to the World Health Organisation, changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of vector-born diseases, as well as their geographic range.

Mosquitoes, which carry potentially deadly diseases like malaria among others, have a population particularly influenced by climate.

Food production

The AMA acknowledged the threat food security faces due to climate change, after a United Nations report released in August.

READ MORE: Climate Change Risk To Food Security: Says United Nations

The U.N. report flagged changes in consumption patterns, leading to two billion overweight or obese adults while an estimated 821 million people are still undernourished.

Country NSW in drought. Image: Getty Images

One-third of food produced across the globe is lost or wasted, an outcome which is linked to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Agriculture, forestry and land use have accounted for close to a quarter of total emissions from 2007 to 2016, the report says.

Agriculture currently accounts for about 70 per cent of global fresh water use, while natural ecosystems are declining due to expanded agriculture and forestry.

Mental health

Climate change is already having an impact on the health and mental wellbeing of people around the country.

With the climate crisis being covered by media more often, 'ecological grief' and 'ecoanxiety' are newly-coined terms that refer to the mental stress people feel about the changing climate and the impact it will have on their future.

ReachOut, an Australian mental health organisation, provides advice for those who feel they have no control or feel helpless to have a positive impact on the environment.

Attendees at the Sydney School Strike 4 Climate rally on March 15. Photo: 10 daily

READ MORE: Is A Failure To Act On Climate Change A Violation Of Human Rights?

READ MORE: Australians Think Climate Change A More Critical Threat Than Terrorism

A drought is continuing to grip New South Wales. Image: Getty

Australia spent more than $1.3 billion each year on climate-related events between 2000 and 2017, according to Dr Ying Zhang, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney school of Public Health.

“Climate change is causing more frequent and intense natural disasters globally and here in Australia," she said.

“Prolonged droughts, cyclones, floods, bushfires and extreme heat events have significantly increased deaths, injuries, infectious diseases and mental illness in Australia."

The AMA is calling on the Australian Government to adopt a  National Strategy for Health and Climate Change, promote the health benefits of addressing climate change and promote an active transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

With AAP.