Health impacts of climate change: Adaptation strategies for Western Australia

11 Aug 2008

It has been demonstrated that the Earth is warming and climatic parameters are changing. In western Australia, the south west has been experiencing rainfall reductions for several decades and other areas across the State have experienced droughts and atypical events. It is now generally accepted that western Australia will experience a climate in the near future that is drier, hotter and has more extreme weather events than it had in the past.

The trends in climatic change will impact human populations through their effects on the physical and biological components of the environment. Global efforts are being made to mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However it has been accepted that some change will occur and that individuals and communities will need to adapt to these changed environmental circumstances to avoid adverse consequences. Of significance are the potential health impacts on people in western Australia. The severity of possible impacts on communities will be dependent on our ability to adapt to situations and environments that may be quite different from those we have now.

The Department of Health and the world Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health Impact Assessment at Curtin University recognised that the Health Impact Assessment process provides an appropriate means by which the potential impacts of climate change in WA can be initially assessed. A Health Impact Assessment of Climate Change Project was undertaken in collaboration with Government and other stakeholders to consider the implications of climate change on the health of the people of western Australia and to develop a range of adaptive responses to provide Government with the basis for future decision making.

The Project was undertaken in two phases. Phase One was the identification of the potential health impacts that could arise given a particular set of climatic situations in the future, consideration of our current coping capacity and identification of health related vulnerabilities of people, regions, infrastructure and the economy to specific climatic and environmental events. The second phase entailed a risk assessment of the health impacts on communities including specific reference to vulnerability, and the development of adaptations which could be used to mitigate the identified impacts.

It was recognised that the lack of detailed knowledge of future climatic conditions in western Australia, the future distribution and densities of populations and the development of associated infrastructure did not allow for a comprehensive and quantitative assessment of health impacts. what emerged from this project, however, was a good understanding of current activities, their adequacy with respect to health and a range of adaptations and required supporting research.

The outcomes have been designed to provide a proactive approach to the protection of the health of communities in Western Australia from any adverse environmental impacts associated with climate change. They form the basis for future planning and decision making by Governments and other relevant sectors and adaptive responses that can be taken up by society in Western Australia.

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