The Code Green campaign began through a partnership between Australian Medical Student Association (AMSA) Think Tank and Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA). Code Green aims to provide a platform from which medical students and doctors can educate, engage and inspire colleagues and the wider community to act now to prevent the worst health consequences of climate change. In acting through Code Green, Australian medical students and doctors join an international community of health leaders taking action on climate change. There are four key components of the campaign: Education, Health Systems, National Advocacy and International Advocacy. At the national level, a separate committee manages each component simultaneously.

Changes in the Earth’s climate system have a severely detrimental effect on human health. Indeed, a commission by The Lancet in 2009 recognised climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”.

The health effects of climate change are many and varied, direct and indirect. A Global Humanitarian Forum report, chaired by Kofi Annan, estimated that 300,000 people die a year as a result of human induced (anthropogenic) climate change, a figure that will rise, at a very conservative estimate, to at least 500,000 people by 2030. Direct threats include an increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events (eg. heatwaves, bushfires and coastal flooding); and changes to patterns of disease and mortality (including changes in the distribution of many vector- and arthropod-borne illnesses). Indirect threats include reduced air quality leading to respiratory illness; decreased agricultural production capacity with follow-on effects malnutrition, famine and conflict; water and sanitation issues; mass displacement and migration, and exacerbations in mental health burden.

What can we do?

Taking action now will improve global public health by reducing the risk of negative health impacts of climate change. We can prevent much of the worst health effects of climate change by taking action to avoid what we cannot manage (mitigation – reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and manage what we cannot avoid (adaptation – preparing for changes that are already set in motion). Tackling climate change also creates immediate co-benefits for community health. For example, increased levels of active transport leads to reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and mental illness, as well as reducing road traffic injuries and deaths and improving air quality. Given that protecting public health is the duty of health professionals in society, we take the firm stance that health professionals can, should, and must take meaningful action on climate change.

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