Saying No to coal in Westport would help restore confidence in our international environmental promises and save hundreds of lives, senior doctors argue

Senior doctors are in Westport today calling for a halt to proposals for new coal mining on the West Coast. Applications by Solid Energy before the West Coast District Council and Buller Regional Council are to open new areas of the Stockton Plateau to open cast coal mining. These doctors represent OraTaiao, the New Zealand Climate & Health Council. They are there to highlight the clear and present dangers of new coal mining to local, national and global health.

“New coal extraction has to be one of the worst things we can do for social, environmental and economic wellbeing as well as going against our international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, says Dr Alex Macmillan, co-founder of the NZ Climate & Health Council. “The WWF report released today highlights our failure as a nation to meet any of our international commitments to the environment over the past two decades. Allowing any new coal mining really makes a mockery to those commitments and supports the WWF claims.”

The International Energy Agency (IEA) last year stated that if fossil fuel infrastructure is not rapidly changed, the world will lose forever the chance to avoid dangerous climate change. “All political parties in New Zealand acknowledge the seriousness of climate change and the need for action to protect the planet from the devastating effects of runaway climate change. Yet the Government is pursuing an aggressive increase in coal mining”, Dr Macmillan says.

“Climate change is the most important public health issue facing us this century. We need to get back to a safe energy balance for the health of today’s people and tomorrow’s”, says Dr Macmillan. “This is possible with concerted effort on the parts of all governments and communities. But the only way we can leave a healthy climate is to rapidly phase out coal extraction and burning.”

Adds Dr Macmillan: “The legal frameworks in New Zealand are failing to protect human health from climate change in this country”. She argues that the combination of weak resource management and an ineffective emissions trading scheme effectively brush the dangers under the carpet during resource consent hearings. “But despite attempts to silence the most important arguments against coal, as doctors our duty to protect the health of their patients, as well as the health of the wider community, is clear.” 

ENDS.

OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council www.orataiao.org.nz Media liaison – Dr Alex Macmillan 021 167 7095 a.macmillan@auckland.ac.nz

Other contacts

Dr Rhys Jones
Co-convenor, OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council Tel. 09 923 6278
Mob. 021 411 743
rg.jones@auckland.ac.nz

Dr Scott Metcalfe
Co-convenor, OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council Mob. 021 2010 440
scott.metcalfe2@gmail.com

Background notes

Dr Alex Macmillan is a public health physician. She is an Executive Board and founding member of OraTaiao: NZ Climate and Health Council.

About OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council

Leading medical bodies throughout the world are saying that politicians must heed health effects of climate change, doctors must speak out, and doctors demand their politicians be decisive, listen to the clear facts and act now. OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council is part of this international movement. It has more than a 140 senior doctors and other health professionals concerned about climate change impacts on health and health services.

The incorporated society has published a number of articles about climate change and health in peer- reviewed medical journals, which can be found on its website www.orataiao.org.nz. The Council’s messages include:

  • Climate change is a real and urgent threat to the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.

  • New Zealand must be an active partner in global cooperation to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas

    emissions to 350ppm CO2-equivalents by:

    • ♦  rapidly halving our own emissions by 2020;1

    • ♦  paying our fair share of international investment in a global future.

  • New Zealand can, and must, respond to climate change in ways that improve population health, accord with Te Tiriti o Waitangi, create a more equitable, just and resilient society, and promote a healthier economy within ecological resource limits.

    1 Metcalfe S, Woodward A, Macmillan A, et al; for the New Zealand Climate and Health group. Why New Zealand must rapidly halve its greenhouse gas emissions [Special Article]. NZ Med J. 2009;122(1304):72–95. http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/122-1304/3827/

About Mt William and coal

Hearings are taking place in Westport on 28 May for Solid Energy’s resource consent applications to open up new areas of the Stockton Plateau at Mt William for coal mining.

Further details of NZ Climate & Health Council’s stance can be found in its submission at

http://www.wcrc.govt.nz/mtwilliam/submissions/Joint%20submissions/WCRC%20&%20BDC%20submission %20OraTaiao%20New%20Zealand%20Climate%20&%20Health%20OPPOSE.pdf

Using well-established international methodology applied to the New Zealand setting, OraTaiao estimates the world, New Zealand included, will bear a climate change cost of $NZ410 million to $1.38 billion from

these emissions alone. The atmosphere is indifferent to where those emissions arise.
(Source methodology: http://mlui.org/downloads/CoalExternalitiesHarvard02-17-11.pdf, using http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12794 chpt 5, converting $US30-100/ton CO2-equivalent world-relevant Social Cost of Carbon to $NZ36-120/tonne applied to Mt William’s 11.5Mt CO2 emissions.)

About current interpretations of NZ Law on climate change

  • The Westport hearings are under the auspices of the Resource Management Act. A recent ruling by the Environment Court2 has been interpreted by the Hearing Commissioners as them being unable to have regard to any evidence or submissions concerning the effects on climate change of discharges into air arising from the subsequent burning of coal. 3

  • The NZ Climate & Health Council (OraTaiao) disagrees with this stance and reserves its position, noting the matter is under appeal and therefore the Environment Court decision should not be taken as the final word on this issue. OraTaiao considers there is scope under the Act to regulate the greenhouse gas effects of activities requiring a land-use consent, as opposed to the effects of activities requiring a discharge permit.

  • OraTaiao notes that the law as it is currently interpreted creates a market distortion because the greenhouse gas effects of coal mined for domestic use are captured to some degree under national legislation, but coal that is exported is not equally captured.

  • OraTaiao therefore respects the Commissioners’ interpretation, but reserves the right to be heard on the direct effects of burning of exported Mt William coal on our shared global climate if the current appeals lodged against the Environment Court’s decision are successful – especially given that the UNFCCC has independently evaluated New Zealand government climate action as inadequate, covering just a fraction of our existing emissions reduction commitments.4

  • OraTaiao also notes the difficulties the latest Environment Court decision poses both for Hearing Commissioners and to local councils. It is local councils who will bear the crippling costs of clearing up after extreme weather events (like the recent flooding at Pohara) and inevitable sea-level rise, yet the Hearing Commissioners’ interpretation suggests councils are not permitted any control over even local causes and effects. OraTaiao sympathises with the Hearing Commissioners plight with the Environment Court’s interpretation of the law to date, which will be under active judicial review.

  • In addition, OraTaiao observes that Solid Energy has already asserted a number of questionable claims, such as the positive impact on health through the capacity for increased sector funding and positive impact on young people in the West Coast community5, which OraTaiao’s health experts believe to be false; but with restrictions on fully discussing the effects of climate change, it is difficult to respond to Solid Energy’s claims.

    2 http://www.wcrc.govt.nz/escarpment/moreinfo/Climate%20Change%20Declaration.pdf
    3 http://www.wcrc.govt.nz/mtwilliam/moreinfo/Hearing%20Committee%20Minute%20-%2011%20May%202012.pdf
    4 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Report of the in-depth review of the fifth national communication of New Zealand. FCCC/IDR.5/NZL. UNFCCC, 18 February 2011. http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2011/idr/nzl05.pdf .
    5 http://www.wcrc.govt.nz/mtwilliam/hearing/applicant/Michael%20Copeland%20Economics.pdf 


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