Top doctors clash with government over ‘contemptuous’ climate change inaction


A group of eminent medical specialists has slammed the Morrison government over its “contemptuous dismissal” of the latest UN report on climate change and its continued support for coal power.

In a “call to action” published in The Lancet, the group says it is “unacceptable” that government has ignored the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which includes a recommendation for dramatic reduction in coal power by 2050.

“As Australian health professionals and scientists, we are dismayed by the implications of our government’s ongoing stance to disregard the consensus of the world’s leading climate scientists, the precautionary principle, and any idea of duty of care regarding the future wellbeing of Australians and our immediate neighbours,” says the letter, co-signed by more than 20 doctors and medical academics including Professor Nicholas Talley, a gastroenterologist from the University of Newcastle, Professor Peter Doherty, Nobel Laureate and immunologist from the University of Melbourne, and child health researcher Professor Fiona Stanley,  former Australian of the Year from the University of Western Australia.

In October, the Morrison government opened up the possibility of new coal investment after dumping the emissions reduction target for the electricity sector set by the national energy guarantee.

The letter from leading health professionals notes that Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter but more than 80% of current coal reserves must remain unused to limit global warming to 2°C.

They also note that air pollution from coal burning is responsible for numerous health problems, and around 2·5 million deaths are caused by solid fuel burning worldwide.

“As with other established historical harms to human health (eg, tobacco and exorbitant hepatitis C drug prices), narrow vested interests must be countered to bring about fundamental change in the consumption of coal and other fossil fuels,” says the letter, which is also signed by Professor Peter Brooks, rheumatologist and professor of epidemiology at Monash University in Melbourne.

The group calls on the government to “protect the health of current and future generations nationally and globally” by:

  • Committing to no new or expanded coal mines
  • Committing to no new coal-fired power stations and phase out existing ones
  • Removing subsidies for fossil fuel industries
  • Scrapping the proposed new Adani coal mine in Queensland
  • Increasing the renewable energy target to at least 50% by 2030
  • Planning to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 (on 2005 levels)
  • Supporting Pacific nations to adapt to climate change

“The Australian Government must commit immediately to embrace strategies of energy generation that do not put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – with healthier communities reaping the benefits now and into the future,” it concludes.

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