The rural health impacts of climate change

Friday, 27 September 2019
cracked earth
Photo: NRHA

The Vision of the National Rural Health Alliance is healthy and sustainable rural and remote communities, and as such we recognise the severe risks that man-made climate change poses to this.

Climate change is one of the most pressing health issues facing rural, regional and remote Australia and the Alliance supports the many health professionals, organisations and global bodies who are calling for greater action to reduce emissions as well as for climate change to be taken seriously.  Climate change urgently requires action from all levels of Government and society as a whole.

The World Health Organization describes the essential ingredients of good health – clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supplies and safe shelter.

The Alliance understands and acknowledges the fact that climate change has the potential to further exacerbate many of the unique health challenges in rural and remote Australia.

Extreme weather events and rising temperatures affect not only the physical and mental health of individuals in rural areas but also the health workforce and infrastructure that these communities rely on.   The Alliance also recognises the danger climate change poses to food and water security, which are vital for the health and wellbeing of everyone, but particularly the vulnerable in rural and remote communities in Australia.

The Alliance states in its submission to the Senate Select Committee Inquiry on  ‘Jobs for the Future in Regional Areas’:

“People outside major cities are more likely to be impacted by ecological determinants of health such as the impact of natural disasters from fires, floods and storms; drought; biodiversity loss; water quality and quantity; food insecurity; ocean acidification, and climate change. To mitigate and adapt to our changing climate requires a rapid shift to a decarbonised world. One of the mechanisms to achieve this is through the green economy and green jobs. The green economy and green jobs have four mutually dependent goals: increasing economic growth, reducing unemployment, increasing social inclusion and equity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These goals also directly align with the Alliance’s vision and strategic directions.”

At the 15th National Rural Health Conference in Hobart, in March 2019, Keynote speaker Peter Sainsbury said

Climate change will have dramatic effects on Australia’s weather patterns and this will have enormous effects on the health and wellbeing of Australia’s rural communities.”

Peter discussed the ways in which climate change will affect the health of rural Australians, and suggested ways in which individuals and communities can contribute to essential and urgent efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare themselves to cope with the inevitable effects of climate change on them.   He also examined the threats posed by climate change to health services and what they must do to reduce their carbon footprint and be ready to handle extreme weather events.   Watch Peter’s presentation 

The 15th Conference also produced a set of priority recommendations and three specific recommendations mentioned climate change:

  • Applying a rural-proofing lens to ensure that all governments policies are developed and implemented in such a way that social and health inequalities do not increase, and that unintended outcomes are mitigated. This will require government investment in climate change adaptation strategies that enable rural health services, the health workforce and communities to adapt to climate change impacts.
  • Invest in, and mandate that all rural health services implement the National Climate Health and Wellbeing Strategy and increase funding for community resilience and capacity building and preparednessfor climate change services and programs and initiatives.
  • the creation of a National Sustainable Development Unit. This department could work across government sectors and jurisdictions to own and implement an Australian response to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, crucially addressing climate change and other planetary health issues. This department would have remit to ensure that rural communities can transition effectively to meet challenges in population shifts, renewable energy, agricultural industry adjustment, ocean and river acidification, changes in land use, and biodiversity loss.

The health sector can play a major role in policy action on climate change and the Alliance will continue to develop our policy in this area.

What our Members are saying

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association

Australasian College of Emergency Medicine

Australasian College of Health Service Management

Australian College of Midwives

Australian College of Nursing

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation

Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists

Australian Physiotherapy Association

Australian Psychological Society


National Rural Health Student Network

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists

Open letter to all political parties and candidates in the May 2019 Federal Election:


NRHA on climate change

NRHA News piece:  The health impacts of climate change n rural and remote Australia

15NRHC Media Release:  Racism, climate change, access and workforce – big ticket items at national rural health conference

NRHA Opinion Piece:  Investing in climate resilience will pay dividends for rural and remote health

NRHA News piece:  Lancet report on climate change and health

NRHA Media Release:  Climate change:  It’s critical

NRHA News piece:  Rural health impacts of climate change


Further reading

World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Climate Change and health

Climate and Health Alliance

Health Care’s Climate Footprint Report 

Doctors for the Environment Australia 

Australian Medical Association



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