Insights into climate change's impact on children released

Former Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley says climate change will shorten life spans of the next generation.
Former Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley says climate change will shorten life spans of the next generation. Kate Rieben

IF we don't tackle climate change as a matter of urgency, this will be the last generation of children to live longer than their parents, warns leading Australian child health researcher, paediatrician and former Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley.

The patron and former director of the Telethon Kids Institute delivered the message in Perth today, while launching a report on the impact climate change will have on children.

>>Read the report here

"I think the health effects of climate change, and particularly the health effects on children, have been grossly neglected and have not been acknowledged," Professor Stanley said.

"This generation of children may be the last to live longer than their parents."

The Doctors for the Environment Australia report, called 'No Time for Games - Children's Health and Climate Change', has called on the Federal Government to adopt a national action plan on the health effects of climate change.

"When you actually factor in the health costs of burning coal then the cost benefit ratios diminish considerably," Professor Stanley said.

"It's not too late to mitigate and adapt and this report is a message for political leaders that we have got to up the targets on reducing emissions, leave fossil fuels in the ground and drastically increase our use of renewable energy."

The report's authors and Professor Stanley said Australia must use the Paris climate change talks to reverse its lagging efforts on reducing greenhouse gases and commit to much more ambitious emissions reductions.

They said the 2020 target of a 5% reduction on 2000 levels should be boosted to 30 per cent.

"We really need to up those targets significantly, as other countries around the world are doing," Professor Stanley said.

They said the target needed to be bolstered to 30 per cent.

Former Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley says children are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Former Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley says children are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Kate Rieben

Report author Dr Sallie Forrest said even she was shocked by what she discovered while compiling the research.

"What struck me was the injustice that children will suffer the most effects, yet they are the least responsible," she said.

"And the most vulnerable are children in developing countries, who suffer 88 per cent of the burden of the impacts of climate change."

Amongst the report's key findings was that children are the most vulnerable to the effects of current and future impacts of increasing temperatures, extreme weather events and pollution levels because of their immune systems, metabolism, physiology and behaviour.

Dr Forrest said research had shown strong links between excessive heat and childhood emergency department attendances for diseases such as asthma, fever, gastroenteritis and electrolyte imbalances.

"There is evidence extreme heat, pollution and a changing climate is increasing the rates of childhood asthma, mosquito borne diseases, premature births, birth weight and psychological trauma," Dr Forrest said.

"The psychological and physical impacts of extreme events are seeing increasing rates of emotional distress.

"After the Canberra bushfires in 2003 it was found that almost 50% of children showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder."

Dr Sallie Forrest is the author of a report detailing the disastrous effects of climate change on children.
Dr Sallie Forrest is the author of a report detailing the disastrous effects of climate change on children.

The report also highlighted how climate change wasn't just about protecting the environment - it had huge ramifications for politics, conflict, human rights, health and economics.

It cited evidence predicting climate change-related stresses could see the displacement of 150-200 million people by 2050, contributing to major health issues and conflicts.

Save the Children UK has estimated millions of children worldwide would be killed, forced to flee their homes and placed at risk of hunger, disease and physical or sexual abuse due to disruption and displacement of families.

Doctors for the Environment Australia has advocated for the following actions:

  • A commitment to strong targets and leadership in upcoming global climate negotiations in Paris. It wants a 2025 target of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 levels, and a 2030 target of 40-60%.
  • Keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition to renewable energy. It says governments must recognize renewable energy becomes cost competitive and even cheaper than fossil fuels when health costs and harmful air pollution are factored into the market price.
  • Realise the opportunities for a healthier future for our children by promoting active transport and a reduction in the use of motorized vehicles
  • Adaption of a Federal State partnership with the federal government producing national plans for the states to enact. It also wants plans for health and emergency services and investment in infrastructure and risk reduction. These plans should include risk reduction in areas such as housing, agriculture, urban planning and transportation.


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