The need to urgently address climate change is self-evident. We know that climate change is already having an impact on our health and well-being. We also know that climate change, if left unchecked, will have an existential impact on the future of our planet and the lives of billions of people globally. Right now, we’re already seeing in our daily work the impacts climate change is having on the health and well-being of people. Evidence of more illness and disease associated with climate change, particularly extreme weather events, continues to grow, and includes increasing mental health issues arising from a greater burden of distress, stress and anxiety.
We know that climate change will alter vectors for a range of diseases which means potentially more diseases not seen in places like Victoria has emerged as a critical issue. It may also mean that future pandemics could be much worse than COVID-19, which has killed over 3 million people globally to date. As a Union that believes in science, we know that unless we take urgent action to address the drivers of climate change, we will suffer the worst consequences of runaway climate change.
The health sector contributes approximately 7% of Australia’s emissions, which is why it is important that we contribute to work to ensure our work limits the impact of climate change. The Union is actively involved with campaigns to cut emissions in the public health care sector and expand use of renewable energy, along with supporting and promoting efforts to reduce waste. However, it is worth pointing out that several Victorian health services are actively working to increase use of renewable energy along with the Victorian Government programs that seek to increase renewable energy for hospitals and other health care facilities. A case in point is the Regional Health Solar Program, which expects 8.6 megawatt-peak solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays will be installed across 73 regional Victorian health facilities generating more than 11 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy per year.
The Union supports campaigns that encourage hospitals to consider the source of consumables within hospitals to ensure they are sourced more locally where possible. There has been a greater appreciation within the health sector for reducing food miles by sourcing more locally produced food, as well as reducing the amount of food waste that is produced. There are greater efforts being made to reduce the reliance on single-use items wherever possible and cutting down on the amount of plastic used in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Several hospitals are actively working to reduce water waste; greater thought is being given to what is put down drains and a concerted effort is being made to consider the chemicals used in areas like cleaning and sanitising, and medical pathology.
In the midst of a broad range of claims to improve wages and conditions of employment in the public sector enterprise agreement we have included a claim to have provisions added to the agreement which we hope will give members a more powerful voice to influence hospital operations in a way which will reduce carbon emissions.
One area that is not receiving as much attention as it should is the need to have a national plan to address climate change and its impact on health and our healthcare systems. The Union is working with the Climate and Health Alliance to ensure that Australia has a nationally coordinated plan to protect the health and well-being of Australians against the impacts of climate change. Just this week, the Union agreed to be a signatory to a national letter from the Climate and Health Alliance that calls for the Australian Government to commit to the decarbonisation of the healthcare sector by 2040, and to implement a National Strategy on Climate, Health and Wellbeing for Australia.
We are also strongly supporting the upcoming School Strike for Climate on 21 May to help keep the pressure on our governments to take more ambitious action on climate change and end our reliance on fossil fuels sooner. Furthermore, we support the Healthy Futures campaign which asks our super funds to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy and their emerging technologies. There are a range of ways you can make your voice heard about ensuring Australia and our institutions do more to end our reliance on fossil fuels.