Why tackling climate change and its impact on health is important

The World Health Organization has described climate change as the defining issue for public health in the 21st century. It is an urgent challenge, with implications at the global, national and community levels. Climate change affects health in many ways: directly by the increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events such as prolonged heatwaves, floods and bushfires; and indirectly through worsening air quality, changes in the spread of infectious diseases, risks to food safety and drinking water quality, and effects on mental health.

Strategic actions

  • Continued emphasis on understanding and assessing the risks of climate change to public health.
  • Promoting community adaptation to the public health risks associated with climate change.
  • Assessing the health co-benefits of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What we want to achieve

  • resilient and safe communities that are adapting to the public health impacts of climate change
  • decreased health impacts associated with climate change (for example, fewer deaths from extreme heat events, fewer mosquito-borne diseases, fewer food outbreaks, fewer algal blooms in drinking water catchments)
  • increased action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and realise health co-benefits.

This page includes links to evidence-based guidance to assist partners in the implementation of actions to tackle climate change and its impact on health across a range of settings.

  • Actions in early childhood settings and schools

    By using a whole-organisation approach that includes staff, students, families and the wider community, early childhood services and schools are ideally placed to improve awareness and understanding of the link between climate change and health, and the adaptation and mitigation actions that can be taken by individuals and the community. There are simple actions that people can take to reduce their impact on climate change while also helping to develop healthy and sustainable habits for life.

    It is important to recognise that children are particularly vulnerable to climate change for several reasons. For example, children are more susceptible to heat stress and dehydration and are more sensitive to exposure to air pollution and smoke from bushfires. Their immune systems are not fully developed, putting them at increased risk of infections. They often need to rely on adults to keep them safe during emergencies and help them to recover afterwards.

    Early childhood services and schools are also workplaces - refer to the guidance for workplaces section on this page.

    Evidence-based actions that early childhood services or schools can take on climate change and its impact on health include:

    Consider learning and other opportunities to encourage climate change mitigation activities and a sustainable lifestyle, which in turn have health benefits

    Taking action against climate change is not only good for the environment, but also improves physical and mental health. For example, walking or cycling instead of driving, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and establish habits that reduce the risk of conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in later life. This, as well as catching public transport, also reduces air pollution. Greater time spent in the natural environment has been shown to improve stress, resilience, self-esteem and depression. Eating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains, along with an active lifestyle, improves mental and physical wellbeing by helping to maintain a healthy weight and ensuring children get all the nutrients they need. Reducing the amount of processed and packaged foods eaten, also reduces the amount of waste that's going into landfill.

    For actions and programs for increasing active living and healthy eating in early childhood settings and schools, see:

    • Increasing active living - Actions in early childhood settings and schools.
    • Increasing healthy eating - Actions in early childhood settings and schools.
    • Natural environments, Department of Education and Training - provides information on the Children's Services Regulations 2009 and on providing outdoor spaces in children's services that enable each child who is cared for or educated by the children's service to explore and experience the natural environment, which has been linked to physical activity, healthy development and overall wellbeing.
    • TAKE2, Sustainability Victoria - a collective climate change program that supports individuals, businesses, government, educational and community organisations to take meaningful action on climate change.
    • ResourceSmart Schools, Sustainability Victoria - a free program that supports Victorian schools to embed sustainability across school facilities, community and curriculum, while saving resources and money for the school.
    Implement plans, policies and measures to support adaptation to reduce the health impacts of climate change within early childhood settings and schools

    Early childhood settings and schools play an important role in protecting the health and wellbeing of children and young people, who are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. As a result, their role in planning for and supporting adaptation is critical. For example, early childhood settings and schools could:

    • undertake place-based risk assessments of climate change impacts upon students' health and wellbeing, as well as the impact on assets, workforce, and services
    • implement health-protective adaptation actions to protect children and young people from the impacts of climate change.
    Improve awareness and understanding of the link between climate change and health, and actions that children and young people can take to stay healthy in a changing climate

    By improving awareness and understanding of how climate change impacts our health, this will help support children and young people to stay healthy in a changing climate.

    • Better health Channel Climate change and public health resources, Department of Health and Human Services - includes information and animated videos for all audiences on the topics of climate change and health, extreme weather events, staying healthy in a changing climate, and the health co-benefits of climate change mitigation in a community context.
    • Heat health resources, Department of Health and Human Services - these resources help local councils, health services and other government agencies to raise awareness about the impact of extreme heat on human health.
  • Actions in local government

    Local government is ideally placed to develop, lead and implement local policies to influence many determinants of health. These policies include actions in areas such as transport, roads, parks, waste, land use, housing and urban planning, recreation and cultural activities, and creating safe public places. All of these areas will be impacted by the changing environment, however actions in these areas also provide opportunities to reduce emissions and improve health at the same time.

    Under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, local councils are required to protect, improve and promote public health and wellbeing within their municipality and prepare a Municipal Public Health and Wellbeing Plan every four years. Under the Climate Change Act 2017 municipal public health and wellbeing plans must have regard to climate change.

    Local government has a broad role in health promotion, the provision of health services such as immunisation, early childhood and home and community care services and other services such as libraries.

    Local government is also a major employer in many communities (refer to guidance for workplaces).

    Evidence-based actions that local government can take on climate change and its impact on health include:

    Implement health-promoting and emissions-reducing policies

    Climate change mitigation is critical to preventing the most significant public health impacts of climate change, and there are many initiatives that can be implemented by local government to both mitigate the impacts of climate change and improve health. For example, local councils could:

    • implement initiatives focussed on greening urban areas, such as maintaining and enhancing tree coverage and vegetation on properties, lining transport corridors, and greening public lands, roofs, facades and walls, and ensuring equitable access to quality open space; these activities can increase carbon sequestration, mitigate the impacts of increased average temperatures, increase the community's resilience to extreme heat events, cool local environments, improve physical and mental health and create more opportunities for people to connect with nature.
    • plan and develop neighbourhoods and implement initiatives that support active lifestyles and emission reduction, including active and community transport.
    • implement programs to encourage sustainable, healthy diets and to reduce food waste
    • take opportunities to make buildings more energy efficient and climate resilient to protect the health and wellbeing of their occupants throughout the year.

    For actions and programs for increasing active living and healthy eating in local government, see:

    • Increasing active living - Actions in local government.
    • Increasing healthy eating - Actions in local government.
    • Plan Melbourne 2017-2050, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
    • TAKE2, Sustainability Victoria - a collective climate change program that supports individuals, businesses, government, educational and community organisations to take meaningful action on climate change.
    • Victorian Healthy Homes Program - a Victorian Government home energy efficiency program. It provides free home energy upgrades to up to 1000 Victorians who live with complex healthcare needs, and have low incomes, in Melbourne's western suburbs and the Goulburn Valley. Local councils or community health providers can refer potential participants, within the program's target area, to the program.
    Implement plans, policies and measures to support adaptation to the health impacts of climate change

    Because of their strong connections to the community and local knowledge, local councils are often best placed to plan for adaptation at a local level. For example, local councils could:

    • undertake place-based risk assessments of climate change impacts upon clients' health, as well as assets, workforce, and services
    • implement health-protective adaptation actions to protect the community from the impacts of climate change.

    Resources on this topic include:

    Improve awareness and understanding of the actions that community members can take to stay healthy in a changing climate while reducing their impact on the environment

    Local councils play an important role in supporting community adaptation to the health impacts of climate change. Improving awareness and understanding of how climate change impacts health and raising awareness of the actions that community members can take to stay healthy in a changing climate, while also reducing their impact on the environment, is critical to building resilience in Victorian communities.

    • Better health Channel Climate change and public health resources - These resources include information and animated videos for all audiences on the topics of climate change and health, extreme weather events, staying healthy in a changing climate, and the health co-benefits of climate change mitigation in a community context.
    • Heat health resources - These resources have been developed by the Department of Health and Human Services to help councils, health services and other government agencies to raise awareness about the impact of extreme heat on human health.
    • TAKE2, Sustainability Victoria - a collective climate change program that supports individuals, businesses, government, educational and community organisations to take meaningful action on climate change.
  • Actions in health and human services

    The health and human services sector encompasses many skilled professionals who are trusted by the community to provide accurate information and advice, and who are uniquely positioned to encourage Victorians to adopt behaviours that are not only good for their health, but subsequently also good for the environment. The environment is a determinant of health, so reducing our environmental footprint is also good for health. The increased health impacts due to climate change are expected to place additional pressure on health and human services. Planning and building capacity and resilience to respond to these impacts will be necessary for the sector, as well as the community.

    Health or human services are also major employers (refer to guidance for workplaces).

    Evidence-based actions that health or human services can take on climate change and its impact on health include:

    Implement plans, policies and measures to support adaptation to the health impacts of climate change

    Health and human services play a key role in planning for adaptation at a local level. For example, health and human services could:

    • undertake place-based health risk assessments of climate change impacts upon patient and clients' health, as well as assets, workforce, and services
    • implement health-protective adaptation actions to protect patients and clients from the impacts of climate change.

    Resources on this topic include:

    • Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2018-19 to 2022-23, Victorian Health and Human Services Building Authority - sets out the department's commitment to improve both the environmental performance of the health system and create resilience in the face of climate change.
    • Heat health plan for Victoria, Department of Health and Human Services - outlines how the department together with local government and the health and human services sectors, can work together to promote public health and wellbeing before and during periods of extreme heat.
    • Heat health resources, Department of Health and Human Services - There are a number of resources for the health and human services sector, such as a factsheet for clinicians, extreme heat preparedness checklist, heat health communication resources, as well as a link to subscribe to the department's heat health alerts.
    • State Extreme Heat Sub-plan, Emergency Management Victoria - This plan outlines the Victorian arrangements for the coordinated response to the impacts and consequences of extreme heat events (including heatwaves) on the community, infrastructure, and services.
    • Victorian Healthy Homes Program, Sustainability Victoria - The Victorian Healthy Homes Program is a Victorian Government home energy efficiency program. It provides free home energy upgrades to up to 1000 Victorians who live with complex healthcare needs, and have low incomes, in Melbourne's western suburbs and the Goulburn Valley. Councils or community health providers can refer potential participants, within the program's target area, to the program.
    Improve awareness and understanding of the link between climate change and health, and actions that patients and clients can take to stay healthy in a changing climate and reduce their impact

    Health and human services are a large sector with influence on the communities that they reach and are uniquely positioned to support patients and clients to stay healthy in a changing climate. For example, health or human services could:

    • support improved awareness and understanding of the health impacts of climate change
    • support innovation and improvements in office-based sustainability and sustainable practices in services
    • implement health-promoting and emissions-reducing policies such as programs to encourage sustainable, healthy diets and reduce food waste, and to promote a more active lifestyle.

    For actions and programs for increasing active living and healthy eating in health and human services, see:

    Increasing active living - Actions in health and human services

    Increasing healthy eating - Actions in health and human services

  • Actions in workplaces

    Workplaces offer unique opportunities to promote health and wellbeing and create healthy and sustainable working environments for staff in the places they spend most of their time. Creating a healthy and sustainable workplace and promoting climate change adaptation and mitigation actions helps staff make healthier and more sustainable choices and improves the culture of the organisation overall.

    Creating a healthy workplace can be complex but there are areas where a few vital behaviour changes can have a major impact and help staff participate, be well, be more productive, and contribute to the community.

    Evidence-based actions that workplaces can take on climate change and its impact on health include:

    Implement plans, policies and measures to support adaptation to the health impacts of climate change

    Assessments of and planning for the impacts of climate change on workplaces would enable organisations and staff to contribute to adaptation actions. For example, workplaces could:

    • undertake place-based risk assessments of climate change impacts upon assets, employees, clients, and services
    • implement health-protective adaptation actions to protect employees from the impacts of climate change.

    Outdoor workers will be more vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change, and more exposed to the direct impacts of climate change, such as heat.

    Improve awareness and understanding of the link between climate change and health, and actions that staff can take to stay healthy in a changing climate and reduce their impact

    Improving awareness and understanding of how climate change impacts our health will help support staff, clients and the community to take adaptation and mitigation actions against the health impacts of climate change. For example, workplaces could:

    • support improved awareness and understanding of the health impacts of climate change
    • support innovation and improvements in office-based sustainability and sustainable practices in services
    • implement health-promoting and emissions-reducing policies such as programs to encourage sustainable, healthy diets and reduce food waste, and to promote a more active lifestyle.

    For actions and programs for increasing active living and healthy eating in workplaces, see:

    Increasing active living - Actions in workplaces

    Increasing healthy eating - Actions in workplaces

    • Better Health Channel Climate change and public health resources - These resources include information and animated videos for all audiences on the topics of climate change and health, extreme weather events, staying healthy in a changing climate, and the health co-benefits of climate change mitigation in a community context.
    • Heat health resources - These resources have been developed by the Department of Health and Human Services to help councils, health services and other government agencies to raise awareness about the impact of extreme heat on human health.
    • TAKE2, Sustainability Victoria - A collective climate change program that supports individuals, businesses, government, educational and community organisations to take meaningful action on climate change.