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2 December 2023

UNICEF Australia welcomes a focus on children in the Australian Government’s new Health and Climate Strategy and urges continued commitment and investment across health systems as children are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The new Health and Climate Strategy was announced today by Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ged Kearney at COP28 – the UN Climate Change Conference, which brings together leaders in climate from governments, business, civil society organisations and UN agencies.

Commenting on the release of the Strategy, UNICEF Australia’s Head of Policy, Katie Maskiell says:

“Children are less able to physically withstand the impacts of climate change than most adults - their bodies and  minds are less developed, and they are more susceptible to toxins, pollutants and health impacts including mental health risks associated with extreme weather events.

“For years, the world has watched the devastation resulting from climate-related disasters such as bushfires and floods on Australians, including children. Despite the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change being signed more than 30 years ago, children’s needs, rights and perspectives have been largely absent from significant policy initiatives or investments.

“We see the strategy as a significant step in the right direction by putting children and young people as a priority.

“When it comes to operationalising this strategy, we’d like to see state and territory health systems also prioritise the needs of children and young people who are not responsible for the climate crisis but bear the brunt of its impacts.”

In addition to making health systems more climate resilient, UNICEF Australia welcomes the Australian Government’s commitment to work with First Nations communities to address climate-related health risks.

“It is important that our First Nations people, including First Nations children and young people play a role in making health systems more climate resilient for current and future generations,” Ms Maskiell says.

At COP28, which is currently underway in Dubai, UNICEF is calling on leaders and the international community to place children at the centre of all outcomes so that their unique needs and rights are respected, promoted and considered. 

Beyond COP28, UNICEF is calling on government – to empower every child to be a champion for the environment, and fulfilling international sustainability and climate change agreements, including reducing emissions.

UNICEF Australia’s submission to the National Health and Climate Strategy Consultation paper can be viewed here.