The 2020 special report of the MJA–Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: lessons learnt from Australia’s "Black Summer"

Ying Zhang*, Paul J. Beggs, Alice McGushin, Hilary Bambrick, Stefan Trueck, Ivan C. Hanigan, Geoffrey G. Morgan, Helen L. Berry, Martina K. Linnenluecke, Fay H. Johnston, Anthony G. Capon, Nick Watts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


The MJA–Lancet Countdown on health and climate change was established in 2017, and produced its first Australian national assessment in 2018 and its first annual update in 2019. It examines indicators across five broad domains: climate change impacts, exposures and vulnerability; adaptation, planning and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance; and public and political engagement. In the wake of the unprecedented and catastrophic 2019–20 Australian bushfire season, in this special report we present the 2020 update, with a focus on the relationship between health, climate change and bushfires, highlighting indicators that explore these linkages. In an environment of continuing increases in summer maximum temperatures and heatwave intensity, substantial increases in both fire risk and population exposure to bushfires are having an impact on Australia’s health and economy. As a result of the “Black Summer” bushfires, the monthly airborne particulate matter less than 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) concentrations in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in December 2019 were the highest of any month in any state or territory over the period 2000–2019 at 26.0 μg/m3 and 71.6 μg/m3 respectively, and insured economic losses were $2.2 billion. We also found growing awareness of and engagement with the links between health and climate change, with a 50% increase in scientific publications and a doubling of newspaper articles on the topic in Australia in 2019 compared with 2018. However, despite clear and present need, Australia still lacks a nationwide adaptation plan for health. As Australia recovers from the compounded effects of the bushfires and the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the health profession has a pivotal role to play. It is uniquely suited to integrate the response to these short term threats with the longer term public health implications of climate change, and to argue for the economic recovery from COVID-19 to align with and strengthen Australia’s commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)490-492.e10
Number of pages13
JournalMedical Journal of Australia
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


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