The recent finding that global temperatures may have already exceeded 1.5 degrees warming and may pass 2 degrees later this decade are deeply concerning, and it must put our leaders on notice that we need to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The only way we can win against runaway climate change is with wind and solar, and plenty of it. It is also the only practical path to achieving our legislated targets for greenhouse emissions.
As a doctor with a vital interest in the links between climate change, environment and health, I can sadly confirm if we don't commit ourselves to doing all we can to address global heating our health will be in peril and we risk an unlivable planet.
Last year was the hottest year on record and the health impacts of climate change are with us now. Heat, drought, fire, flood and storm all have direct health impacts and they impact on mental health and all aspects of wellbeing. Warming beyond the Paris target of 1.5 degrees leads to the possible (many would say likely) collapse of the complex ecological, social, economic and political systems upon which our health and prosperity depends.
In Australia, many major medical groups have called a climate health emergency, including the AMA, and medical colleges including general practice, surgery and medicine, alongside the World Health Organisation and countless other international health organisations.
At the foundation of medical ethics is the precautionary principle of "first do no harm". As individuals and as a nation, we must embrace this principle.
Numerous surveys show most Australians accept the overwhelming scientific evidence climate change is caused by human activity, most importantly the burning of fossil fuels.
So why are we not there yet?
The Labor government has made fair progress, but much more needs to be done. It is so easy to be distracted from the need for action by many other real and legitimate concerns, including housing and cost of living. We must always try and remember runaway climate change will also make these other pressing problems much worse. It is also so easy to be distracted and confused by the clamour of competing opinions, some of which are clearly aligned with the deeply entrenched vested interests of the fossil fuel industry.
Despite the misinformation and disinformation that is rife, local community concerns around ensuring new renewable projects are safe, environmentally friendly and have minimal impact on their quality of life are understandable and must be respected.
The facts are that wind and solar cause no likely harm to human health - rather, they help to improve health and reduce air pollution. They are also the cheapest electricity generation to install. With ambitious expansion of wind and solar, it is highly likely Australia will be able to make a seamless transition from our dirty and unhealthy coal-fired power stations over the next 10 years. Saul Griffith, an engineer and expert in renewable energy, speaks clearly and authoritatively on this, along with many others.
Much of Australian business and the union movement recognise the inevitability of this sweeping transition and also recognise the enormous potential benefits. The powerful unions that have supported the security of their members with good jobs through many crises are now campaigning for offshore wind in the Hunter and other regions, because it is so clearly evident where the good jobs will be in the near future.
A huge number of us have embraced rooftop solar and take pride in our contribution to a healthier future, while also enjoying lower power bills. Offshore wind is also an important part of our renewable future and is critical for a fair and healthy transition for regions like the Hunter and Illawarra that have both relied on coal and helped build our nation's prosperity. It makes obvious sense to put the offshore wind where the workers and the wires are already in place.
I live by Australia's coast and care deeply about our beaches, ocean and our whales which some say are under threat from wind farms, despite the science showing wind farms don't have any significant impact on them.
Climate change is a far greater threat not only to whales but the people and places we love, as well as to all life on Earth.
A shift to renewables is a large part of the solution to dangerous warming. As part of this necessary transition, there must be clear and fair processes in place to ensure that impacts on communities and the environment from renewable projects are minimal.
There must also be fearless championing of an evidence-based evaluation of the benefits and risks of these projects to the community, to the environment, and to our health.
- Dr Shaun Watson is co-chair of NSW Doctors for the Environment Australia.