Climate Change Health Impacts in Australia

If we continue to allow emissions to increase, by 2100:

* 8,000 -15,000 Australians could die every year from heat-related illnesses
* the dengue transmission zone could reach as far south as Sydney.

Rainfall patterns will continue to change

possible reductions in average rainfall in southern and eastern Australia

increases across the tropical north.

More heatwaves and severe storms and floods, stronger cyclonic winds, increased bushfire risk and prolonged drought are expected.

Projected health impacts include:

Some Australians – for example, remote Aboriginal communities, people on low incomes and the elderly will be ill-equipped to respond to these changes.

Other climate change factors and scenarios that will affect the health of Australians.


Strong Policy control emissions

If action was taken today to start to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by 2100:

• the annual heat-related mortality might only be between 4,000 and 8,000 deaths compared with the 8,000 to 15,000 under the uncontrolled emissions scenarios. This means effective action to reduce greenhouse gases could avoid half the projected heat-related deaths by 2100.

• with strong climate change policy action, the zone of potential dengue transmission could move as far south as Rockhampton or Gympie – but would remain north of very densely populated regions such as south-east Queensland, coastal New South Wales and Sydney.

No policy uncontrolled emissions

If no policy action is taken and a scenario of uncontrolled emissions is used, by 2100:

• the number of annual heat-related deaths is projected to be 8,000-15,000 (compared with 1,100 deaths a year at present). This figure takes into account that by 2100 the number of people in the 65+ age group is expected to increase two to five times above current numbers.

• regions susceptible to dengue transmission in Australia will expand and spread south – possibly as far as Sydney


Mitigating the effects


• Infrastructure adaptation such as passive solar building design and use of ventilation and insulation, heat-reducing urban planning AND Increased intake of fluids and Changed work hours.


• Good mosquito control programs will be required to keep disease outbreaks at a lower level.

Research indicates that a coincidental reduction in air pollution following a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from road transport could avert around 300-500 premature deaths per year in the combined Sydney and Melbourne regions. Woodruff, Hales, et al. (2005). op cit.

Actions to reduce greenhouse gases that reduce personal car use would also have the effect of encouraging more walking and cycling which would have beneficial effects on exercise rates and obesity. These effects in turn would impact on the ‘lifestyle’ diseases (such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases) that are amongst the greatest contributors.

Air pollution from motor vehicles caused an estimated 900-2,000 early deaths in Australia in the year 2000, entailing direct costs of between $1.1 and $2.6 billion.

Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics (2005). Working Paper 63: Health Impacts of Transport Emissions in Australia: Economic Costs, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

implications of climate change for disease in Australia:



Infectious diseases: transmission of infectious disease is determined by many factors, including social, economic, climatic, and ecological conditions.

Flooding, compromised water and food security and hygiene which is compromised during extreme weather events.

Water borne disease: drought and the resultant decline in water quality are responsible for the increased incidence of water-borne disease.

Water contamination of bacteria, viruses, protozoa and parasites, which often occurs during drought and flooding.

Food borne disease: contamination of food by viruses, bacteria and pathogens.

Increased heat (surface and ocean temperature) increases prevalence of food contaminants.

Vector borne diseases: pathogens being transmitted from human to human or animal to human via mosquitoes.

Increased temperatures and flooding will exacerbate the breeding cycle of mosquitoes.

Respiratory illness: atmospheric pollution which inhibits respiratory functioning.

Prolonged heat can create more smog and dispersal of allergens.

Diabetes/Hypertension/Obesity: diseases that can be greatly affected by lifestyle/diet.

Higher prices for fresh produce could result in lower-income people to eat lower quality/processed food. Changes in wildlife, fish and vegetation could force people to replace traditional eating with processed food.