Climate change will affect human health, mostly adversely, resulting in a greater burden on the health care system, in addition to any other coexistent increases in demand (e.g. from Australia's increasingly ageing population). Understanding the extent to which health is likely to be affected by climate change will enable policy makers and practitioners to prepare for changing demands on the health care system. This will require prioritisation of key research questions and building research capacity in the field. There is an urgent need to better understand the implications of climate change for the distribution and prevalence of diseases, disaster preparedness and multidisciplinary service planning. Research is needed to understand the relationship of climate change to health promotion, policy evaluation and strategic financing of health services. Training of health care professionals about climate change and its effects will also be important in meeting long-term workforce demands.