Australian policies on water management and climate change: are they supporting the sustainable development goals and improved health and well-being?
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BACKGROUND: Sustainable management of the natural environment is essential. Continued environmental degradation will lead to worsened health outcomes in countries and across generations. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for viewing the preservation of natural environments and the promotion of health, well-being and health equity as interconnected pursuits. Within the SDG framework the goals of promoting environmental sustainability and human health are unified through attention to the social determinants of health and health equity (SDH/HE). This paper presents findings from a document analysis of all Australian environment sector policies and selected legislation to examine whether and how current approaches support progress toward achieving SDG goals on water, climate change, and marine ecosystems (Goals 6, 13 and 14), and to consider implications for health and health equity.
RESULTS: Consideration of a broad range of SDH/HE was evident in the analysed documents. Related collaborations between environment and health sectors were identified, but the bulk of proposed actions on SDH/HE were initiated by the environment sector as part of its core business. Strengths of Australian policy in regard to SDGs 6, 13 and 14 are reflected in recognition of the effects of climate change, a strong cohesive approach to marine park protection, and recognition of the need to protect existing water and sanitation systems from future threats. However, climate change strategies focus predominately on resilience, adaptation and heat related health effects, rather than on more comprehensive mitigation policies. The findings emphasise the importance of strengthened cross-sectoral action to address both the drivers and effects of environmental degradation. A lack of policy coherence between jurisdictions was also evident in several areas, compounded by inadequate national guidance, where vague strategies and non-specific devolution of responsibilities are likely to compromise coordination and accountability.
CONCLUSIONS: Evidence on planetary health recognises the interconnectedness of environmental and human health and, as such, suggests that ineffective management of climate change and water pose serious risks to both the natural environment and human well-being. To address these risks more effectively, and to achieve the SDGs, our findings indicate that cross-jurisdiction policy coherence and national coordination must be improved. In addition, more action to address global inequities is required, along with more comprehensive approaches to climate change mitigation.
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