Time to get serious about climate change stance


The APA should be among the health leaders advocating for a better future.

I have been a physiotherapist and APA member for almost 20 years, and an environmentally conscious person and environmental sustainability advocate for even longer. These two aspects of my life are both equally important, yet I feel in Australia, in this current climate and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they are still too mutually exclusive.

In an open letter released 16 June 2015 (tinyurl.com/y9kekvnb), more than 50 civil society groups—the APA being one of them—called on parliamentarians to commit to zero carbon pollution in Australia by 2050.

The groups stated that: ‘Australia and Australian people stand to lose so much from the impacts of climate change; it is in our national interest to be among the leading nations to ensure the world limits warming to well below 2 degrees. A zero carbon pollution future is possible, and it is all of our responsibility to make that future a reality for our children, and their children.’

What role have we, the APA, played since this letter? Was it just words or have we followed it up with action, advocacy or policies? This was almost five years ago now.

On 19 September 2019, the APA posted a climate change comment on its website (tinyurl.com/u4u5c76): ‘The APA acknowledges the scientific evidence which shows that climate change is a growing global health, environmental and economic concern. Our members are concerned that the effects of climate change will have direct and indirect implications on the health and wellbeing of all Australians, particularly on our ability to stay physically active. ‘The APA is developing a plan to reduce our own climate footprint as an organisation, and will support our 27,000 members in taking action to combat climate change.’

This is a great statement but I think it is too little, too late. We need to help lead this debate.

I recently found out that the APA is not yet part of the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA)—a coalition of healthcare stakeholders which is working together to address the threat to human health from climate change and ecological degradation, through prompt policy action. As we have seen with past advocacy efforts, organisations working together have far greater impact than when they work in silos. Membership to CAHA is a first step in the right direction if the APA is serious about addressing climate change.

Eleven years ago, physiotherapist Lester Jones wrote an article entitled ‘Physiotherapy and the earth’s global climate: a need for cultural change’ (tinyurl.com/y8wtttdk), and asked ‘does the physiotherapy profession promote a culture of environmental sustainability?’

Lester went on to ask whether the profession has investigated the impact of physiotherapy on the environment, whether our research activities are carbon neutral and highlighted the need for the profession to ‘facilitate empirical research into the environmental impact of physiotherapy practice so that clinicians can build this knowledge into their clinical decision-making and modify their practice.’

This would be a great start, but it was proposed 11 years ago, and I’m not sure if any research has happened as a result. If it did, where is this research and why is it not more readily available to us?

I am mindful of the danger of focusing on ‘the doom and gloom’ of climate change, as that can lead to hopelessness.

There are, however, many, many things that we as individual clinicians can do to help reduce our own ‘professional’ carbon footprint—such as installing solar panels, making use of electric cars or bikes in our businesses and personal lives, implementing composting and recycling practices in workplaces, choosing environmentally conscious products and suppliers, saying no to plastic cups in waiting rooms and switching to re-usable coffee cups and drink bottles, greening our offices with real plants rather than artificial ones, going digital with notes and forms rather than paper copies, and preparing an environmental policy for our businesses/ practises and displaying this to our clients.

The list is endless.

We can do all these things and they will have a fantastic effect, but as we have seen over the last 30 years, individual action is a drop in the ocean when compared with what we can achieve as a coalition of proactive organisations, putting pressure on governments to change policies and work towards achieving zero carbon emissions.

As Fiona Armstrong, public health policy expert and director of CAHA, wrote in an article after the COVID-19 crisis had commenced, biodiversity (all biological diversity from genes, to species, to ecosystems) is declining faster than at any time in human history. We clear forests and remove habitat, bringing wild animals closer to human settlements. And we hunt and sell wildlife, increasing the risk of disease transmission from animals to humans.

On 26 May this year, the Global Climate and Health Alliance, of which CAHA is a member, sent a letter to the heads of all G20 countries, urging them to pursue a healthy recovery from COVID-19 by delivering plans that put us on a path to a healthier world, with strong health systems, clean air and water and a stable climate (see #HealthyRecovery).

The APA must join the CAHA to help create a better future for the next generation. I am proud to be an APA member, and would  be even prouder if we could be among the health leaders addressing and advocating for this very important issue.

Alex Ellis, APAM 


Steps towards becoming climate conscious have been taken. The APA recognises and endorses the World Health Organization’s view that climate change represents a global health crisis, and as an advocate for health, we are engaged with this important issue.

Earlier this year, we met with CAHA to discuss the possibility of the APA becoming a member organisation. It was a fruitful discussion, which would have been followed up soon after had COVID-19 not happened. Discussions will resume as soon as practicable.

Our own National Advisory Council (NAC) has actively been reviewing the issue of climate change and discussing proactive, appropriate responses by the profession. Part of this work culminated in Deb Sutherland, chair of the APA Occupational Health Group and member of the NAC, along with other members, conducting a waste audit at the APA head office to ascertain our current footprint and alert us to opportunities to improve.

This group of engaged members, with the support of the APA, was also in the process of putting together guides and resources for physios wishing to better understand their carbon footprint and put together strategies to lower it. This issue of climate change is on the agenda for the next NAC meeting, where we will develop our plan further.

As we re-emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, as an organisation we have another opportunity to make climate-conscious decisions.

There is much talk about the need to have ample stock of disposable items in the office, such as cups and cutlery, in order to avoid sharing. We have chosen not to do this, and instead are asking staff to bring their own crockery and cutlery. It is a small but important signal, that the environment is more important than convenience.

As face-to-face professional development courses resume, we are consciously making decisions that minimise impact on the environment, while honouring our duty to keep people COVID-safe. 

Our journey towards a climate-conscious profession and organisation has begun— slowly, but deliberately. We recognise that this is one of the defining issues of our times, and are conscious that we have an opportunity to make a real difference. We will keep members up to date as things progress.

Phil Calvert, APAM

APA National President

Anja Nikolic

APA Chief Executive Officer


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