Position paper: Rural health policy in a changing climate – three key issues

01 February 2021

People in rural, regional and remote communities bear the brunt of health effects from our changing climate, prompting the National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) to recommend tangible government measures.

The Position paper: Rural health policy in a changing climate – three key issues, discusses specific impacts and risk factors facing the 7 million people living in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia in relation to extreme weather events; impacts on agricultural output and food security; and debilitating insect-borne diseases.

Alliance CEO Gabrielle O’Kane says, “The paper provides a timely perspective on the trauma and other health impacts rural people experience from the effects of climate change, as well as the cost to society.”

The Alliance’s Position paper joins the groundswell of calls to address the consequences of our changing climate, including a report recently released by the Climate Council which says the cost of extreme weather in Australia has more than doubled since the 1970s, totalling $35 billion over the past decade. Also, a new body called the Climate Targets Panel, including former Liberal leader John Hewson, have released a separate paper saying Australia needs a 2030 emissions reduction target of between 50 per cent and 74 per cent to comply with goals of limiting global heating to 2C and 1.5C respectively.

“Climate change is a significant threat to health, and the adverse health risks are generally greater in rural, regional and remote communities where people are already at a disadvantage from unequal access to health care and are more susceptible to poor health outcomes,” Ms O’Kane said.

“Additionally, rural, regional and remote communities are also particularly prone to the health-related impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events, increases in pest and disease issues, and poorer health in terms of chronic disease, comorbidity and mental health.

“The Alliance is calling for the inclusion of climate-driven impacts on rural health in all future health planning, as well as research and transition plans to help communities mitigate the short and long-term health effects of climate change.

“The Alliance supports government action against the National Strategy for Climate, Health and Well-Being and recommends measures to address three rural-specific risks: extreme weather events; impacts on agricultural output and food security; and debilitating insect-borne diseases.” 

The Alliance is calling for national and state/territory governments to:

  • Develop rural-specific transition plans as part of Australia’s shift to a sustainable economy.
  • Prioritise research that assists rural, regional and remote communities to better adapt to and mitigate climate-related impacts: Extreme weather, risks to agriculture and food security, and increased threat of vector-borne diseases.
  • Include climate change risks in all healthcare planning, including the additional cost to health systems from climate change impacts.