Dr Lai Heng's climate work with the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) has uncovered that "renewable energy sources can be sustainable and profitable and provide much needed jobs, especially to rural areas." She is Emergency Medicine Specialist at Bankstown Hospital with expertise in Public Health, Disaster Medicine and Climate Change and Health, and is a member of the Indigenous Health Committee of ACEM.
Read more from our interview with Dr Lai Heng Foong below.
What is ACEM?
The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) is the not-for-profit organisation responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards in emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand. The Public Health and Disaster Committee has spearheaded the organisation in divesting from fossil fuels, declare a climate emergency (in November 2019) and collaborate with other medical colleges and NGOs on climate change advocacy work. We are committed to continue this work and are working on an Environmental Action plan to guide ACEM in all our work.
Why is ACEM taking climate action?
The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM; The College) considers climate change and the associated health impacts to be a population health emergency. Climate change presents an immediate risk to the capacity and ability of EDs, health systems and the emergency medicine workforce to safely manage increased demand as a result of more frequent and intense climate disasters. ACEM recognises that EDs and hospitals need to be resourced and supported to respond and manage increased presentations including surges in demand. Alongside this, ACEM actively supports efforts to minimise the impact of climate change including measures to reduce the carbon footprint of hospitals and health systems.
We have declared Climate Emergency in November 2019 and are finalising our Environmental Action Plan which will be framework that will guide our College’s operational, educational, advocacy roles. Given the scale of climate change, ACEM recognises the vital need to support and partner with other organisations and actors to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. Our last annual scientific meeting was all about Climate change, and a different way of running our Emergency Departments. We have also strengthened about advocacy role and campaigned for a health based economic recovery after Covid-19. We collaborate with different organisations incuding other medical colleges and NGOs on climate change and health advocacy. We support all steps that will help us reduce our CO2 emissions and keep temperature down below 2, and ideally 1.5 deg C as recommended in the Paris Accords.
Can you share something ACEM is currently working on that you are excited about?
I have led the Public Health and Disaster Committee’s establishment of an Environmental Action Plan. This document is an action plan which aligns with the Strategic Vision for Action against climate change. The action plan is aligned to the same themes as the Strategic Vision including leadership, research, advocacy, partnerships, education and culture. ACEM and its members recognise that climate change requires both adaptation and mitigation and therefore a mix of actions are outlined. Actions are assigned to ACEM staff as well as Emergency Department Directors, Fellows of ACEM and trainees.
What real-world opportunities has ACEM uncovered from taking climate action?
- That the medical community has the confidence and trust of the community and can spread messages that links health impacts to climate change, and that we need to act now to avoid the destructive impacts of climate change related health impacts.
- That community advocacy can be very powerful and inspiring and can change the political dialogue on climate change.
- That renewable energy sources can be sustainable and profitable and provide much needed jobs, especially to rural areas.
What action would you like to see Australia take on climate?
- Accept that Climate change is real and its impacts (including health) will be felt by everyone, and is reversible after we pass a certain threshold and take actions that will avoid this threshold.
- Take concrete actions to commit to transitioning to renewable sources of energy (and away from Fossil fuels) and to lower out Co2 emissions and aim for a temperature increase not more than 1.5 deg C consistent with the Paris accords.
- Commit to developing renewable sources of energy which will create jobs for people, especially in the rural areas are accountable for their actions in continuing to approve mines of coal, gas which will increase our CO2 emissions.
- Commit to developing more climate resilient health systems and community preparedness for extreme weather events.