WHGNE strives towards a future where rural and regional women of all ages have optimal health and wellbeing. Our work is health promotion – put simply this is action on the things that shape health, beyond individual choices. Our focus is on dismantling the social, economic and political inequality between women, men and non-binary communities through advocating for change to policy, law, regulation and social norms. 

In December 2023, the Hon. Ged Kearney MP launched Australia’s first National Health and Climate Strategy (the Strategy). WHGNE commends the Minister and the Federal Government for this National Health and Climate Strategy. Recognising the health and wellbeing impacts of climate change is critical. The call to action is urgent and resounding. The vision, ‘Healthy, climate resilient communities, and a sustainable, resilient, high quality, net zero health system’ is ambitious and necessary.  

In August 2023, as part of the Consultation process, WHGNE called for an expansion of the then draft Strategy (Our submission) a call to go further; broaden the understanding of health as a resource and a right; recognise and address inequity as an enduring impediment to climate justice; and elevate the role of First Nations people. Overwhelmingly our recommendations are captured in this final Strategy, providing a robust and evidence informed way forward. 

Safe-guarding and promoting health underpins this Strategy, which will assist in mitigating and adapting to climate change, and nudge deeply entrenched inequity that currently sees some communities carrying a larger burden of the climate change health impact.  

WHGNE wholeheartedly commends the Government for the development of this Strategy, and its clear commitment to evidence, equity and health system reform. We would like to see this Strategy inform decision making and funding going forward. Critically an adequately funded health system would be able to provide quality healthcare that includes action to prevent chronic disease, along with strides towards decarbonisation and reductions in emissions

WHGNE would like to take this opportunity to outline the highlights of this Strategy, and how they will enrich and inform a path to healthy communities, surviving and hopefully thriving in a changing climate. 

In line with the Climate and Health Alliance’s analysis of this Strategy we are keen to see good intentions translate into actionFinally, drawing from an emerging evidence base and our expertise as regional gendered health promotion experts WHGNE also offers guidance with regards to the way forward.

Read the National Health and Climate Strategy

  • An expanded and more ambitious vision has set the bar high for a future health system that actively contributes to the health of the community and the environment. The vision: ‘Healthy, climate resilient communities, and a sustainable, resilient, high quality, net zero health system’.  
  • A more holistic definition of health: ‘(health is) a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ (WHO, 1948). Expanded in 1986 by WHO, to include that health is: ‘a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities.’ This expanded definition of health reflects a move away from the bio-medical model to an approach informed by the social model of health. This approach recognises that health is shaped by more than the sum of individual’s choices, but rather it is shaped by the social and economic determinants of health, things like housing, education and employment.   
  • A rights-based approach – recognising that health is a human right – a universal right of all human beings, regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Every human has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, a guarantee of universal access to quality health services and action to address the root causes of health disparity, including poverty, stigma and discrimination. (WHO, 2023)  
  • Equity. Climate change impacts everyone but not equally. Some groups are at greater risk of adverse health impacts from climate change. These groups include people experiencing socio-economic disadvantage and social marginalisation, First Nations people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities and people living in rural and remote areas. These groups need to be considered more deeply, with additional resourcing and support right across all climate change mitigation and adaptation, and health promotion efforts. 
  • Planetary Health. The health of humans is intimately connected with the health of the Planet. As a principle in the Strategy, ‘One Health and Planetary Health’ recognises that human health is deeply interconnected with the health of animals, and our shared environment – put simply human health depends on the health of the planet. 
  • First Nation’s people’s understanding of health as ‘the social, cultural and emotional wellbeing of the whole community’ and recognition that when ‘Country (their traditional lands, seas and waterways) is healthy, the People will be healthy’, aligns with the social model of health and underpins this Strategy. In addition, First Nations People’s clear leadership role in climate change adaptation and mitigation is central, critical and valued.  
  • A whole of Government, Health in all Policies (HiAP), approach is necessary to realise this ambitious vision. Health is not only the domain of the health system, individual and collective health is determined by non-medical factors that sit outside of the health sector, therefore health must be considered in all policies, for example in areas such as transport, housing, education, finance, taxation, the environment. 
  • Valuing and investing in a primary prevention approach, within and beyond the health sector. The primary prevention investment and investment in the social and economic determinants of health, things like housing, job security and social connection– prevents disease and illness before it occurs – this is a positive investment in promoting health and wellbeing. This investment in health, a resource for life, will reduce the health service system demand and decrease the system’s climate footprint. 

  • Meaningful and genuine First Nations Leadership, that is central to decision-making on climate and health policy at all levels. 
  • A greater focus on women and gender diverse people. Critically the gendered impact of climate change must be visible in the translation of this Strategy, so to greater emphasis on the unique and different impact across the rural and remote landscape. The impact of climate change and disaster is gendered. The impacts on women and girls are different, from disaster preparation, evacuation, response through to recovery. This gendered impact is shaped by the care responsibilities carried by women, the need for more women in leadership and decision-making roles in disaster management and the impact of gendered stereotypes in response and recovery. In addition, geography, notably living in rural and regional areas, shapes disaster management, along with climate change mitigation and adaption. Critically investment in health services, specialist services and infrastructure, such as roads and public transport shape the impact of climate and disaster in rural and regional communities. This context needs to be considered across the implementation of this Strategy. The long-term lack of investment in infrastructure commonly leads to greater project implementation costs and timeframes. 
  • An enduring commitment to equity throughout the translation of Strategy into decisions, programs and grants. The health equity approach is critical, will require a steadfast commitment throughout implementation and must be companioned with a strong focus on the determinants of health. It is critical that communities carrying a larger load of the climate change health impact are not further isolated or discriminated against in seeking to consider their needs in a changing climate. 

  • Value care in healthcare settings. See, value and renumerate care-work appropriately and address the long-standing problem of staff-patient ratios. 
  • Value Care Through Disaster. WHGNE partnered with Australia reMADE in 2023, to undertake research and develop the Care Through Disaster (Our Report), 2023 report. This research found that communities need to be SEEN, SAFE and SUPPORTED in disaster. Seen, through strong community connection and cohesion, built before the disaster; Safe to prevent harm and/or provide shelter/refuge; and supported, recognising and building on community’s strengths and agency. Invest in social connection as a resource that sustains communities navigating a changing climate and extreme weather events.  
  • Draw from the emerging literature across Gender and Disaster. Align the Strategy, across Government and consider the findings from the Gender and Disaster work. Notably understand and address the escalation of intimate partner violence during and after natural disasters; ensure women can contribute to and lead disaster preparedness, survival and recovery (including climate change mitigation and adaption) and foster community connectedness. 

This blog references the following online documents from WHO:

World Health Organisation. (1948). Constitution of the World Health Organisation. couv arabe.indd (who.int)

World Health Organisation. (2023). Human Rights Fact Sheet. Human rights (who.int)