ABC News, November 30, 2011
A new report is warning more Australians face dying in heatwaves and catching infectious diseases as a result of climate change.
A Climate Commission report out today, titled The Critical Decade: Climate Change and Health, says climate change-related injury, disease and deaths will continue to grow in decades to come unless sustained action is taken.
The Climate Commission report says climbing temperatures will lead to more natural disasters and changing rainfall patterns, which will have an impact on people's health as much as on the environment.
It includes a worst-case scenario where deaths from hotter temperatures in Queensland and the Northern Territory could multiply tenfold by 2100.
Report co-author Professor Lesley Hughes says even a small rise in temperature can be detrimental to people's health.
"A small rise in average temperature actually means a fairly large rise in the number of days, for example, over 35 degrees [Celsius] every year," she said.
"So as average temperatures go up, the number of extremely hot days go up in a disproportionate way. So what we're concerned about with climate change, amongst other impacts, is the impact on heatwaves."Professor Hughes concedes Australia already experiences killer heatwaves.
"In the last couple of years we've had some fairly significant heatwaves in the south-eastern states, especially in Melbourne and Adelaide," she said.
"In Melbourne for example, in 2009, in the weeks before the Black Saturday bushfires, there was an increase of 62 per cent on the normal death rate for that period when temperatures reached record levels in the mid-40s.
Professor Hughes says all climate models are showing there will be rises in the frequency and or intensity of many extreme events that have detrimental impacts on health.
The Climate Commission report says health burdens and costs are likely to rise as the climate changes.
"Climate change will have both direct and indirect impacts on health," Professor Hughes said.
"[It will] potentially affect the distribution of mosquitoes that carry diseases like dengue fever, maybe exposing many more people to the impacts of that disease.
"Climate change will also disproportionately affect those people in our society that are already more vulnerable.
"So the elderly, those with existing heart and kidney disease, children, people in remote communities and especially Indigenous communities.
"One of the aspects of climate change will be an economic impact via the impact on workers that will potentially have to cease working for more of the day than they do currently ... I think miners, like any outdoor workers, will be increasingly subject to longer periods of hotter weather during their working days, and that will have an impact."
The Climate Commission report was released as the United Nations' World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) released figures showing that 13 of the warmest years on record have occurred within the last decade and a half.
The year 2011 caps a decade that ties the record as the hottest ever measured, the WMO said in its annual report on climate trends and extreme weather events, unveiled at UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.
"Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities," WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud said in a statement, urging policy makers should take note of the findings.