Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty and former Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley are among more than 180 health professionals and leading health groups who have signed an open letter warning the Federal government must strengthen Australia’s weak environment laws to protect health.
The letter warns that a failure to conserve the country’s environment is, in effect, dismantling our life support systems.
This is exposing Australians to potentially even more deadly pandemics than COVID-19, as well as the kind of catastrophic climate change that fuelled the horrific Black Summer bushfires, it says.
See a tweet by Dr Matthew Rimmer, Professor of IP & Innovation Law, here:
The letter was delivered to Federal environment minister, Sussan Ley. Through a spokesperson, Ley said the letter had been received and would be considered as part of the EPBC Act review.
Letter released ahead of EPBC Act review
Organised by the groups Doctors for the Environment Australia and the Climate and Health Alliance, the letter has been released as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease across the country, and ahead of the review of Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The review panel’s draft report is expected to be released next month.
See the Climate and Health Alliance’s tweet here:
According to a media statement released by Doctors for the Environment Australia on Monday, 25 May to accompany the open letter, the EPBC Act was enacted 21 years ago but has “failed to achieve its objectives of protecting Australia’s environment and promoting ecologically sustainable development and biodiversity conservation”.
Human health depends on the natural world’s health
The open letter states that “human health and wellbeing are fundamentally dependent on the health of the natural world. Healthy, biodiverse ecosystems provide us with clean air and water, food and fibre; regulate our climate, pests and diseases; and are the source of most of the medicines we rely on.
They also provide places for recreation, psychological rejuvenation and spiritual connection. Connecting with nature leads to happier, healthier communities.”
The main thrust of the open letter is that Australia needs new environment laws to repair past damage and respond to the scale of challenges that the nation is facing.
Second highest rate of biodiversity loss worldwide
- Australia has the second highest rate of biodiversity loss in the world and is globally recognised as a land-clearing and deforestation hotspot.
- Scarce water resources are in decline, threatening many rural and regional communities and our food security.
- The Great Barrier Reef and other marine habitats face collapse.
- Climate change – one of the biggest threats to our natural environment, biodiversity and to human health – is not mentioned in the EPBC Act.
“As we clear forests and other wildlife habitats, we increase the risk of transfer of infectious diseases from wildlife to people,” said Professor Katherine Barraclough, board member and Victorian chair of Doctors for the Environment Australia in the press release accompanying the open letter. “When we fail to address climate change, we risk extreme heat, bushfires, water shortages and food insecurity.”
She added: “The COVID-19 pandemic and the summer’s fires serve as a wake-up call. We must recognise the interconnections between humans, animals and natural places.”