BERL’s healthy Southland vision welcomed by doctors

Doctors have welcomed a report released yesterday on how Southland can grow good jobs without destroying the climate.

NZ Climate & Health Council spokesperson Dr Scott Metcalfe says “The ‘View to the South’ report, by leading economics consultancy firm BERL, is a healthy vision for Southland’s future. This is welcome news because our future health and survival depends on greenhouse gas emissions reductions to protect our climate.”

BERL’s report outlines diverse growth areas of forestry, engineering, education and horticulture/crops creating more than three thousand new jobs. These draw on Southland’s tried- and-true strengths and give healthy reasons for young Southlanders to stay. Forestry expansion is the biggest suggested job generator, soaking up carbon emissions and potentially building renewable energy independence.

OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council are senior doctors and other health professionals concerned with climate change as a serious public health threat, and say that New Zealand needs to rapidly reduce its lethal greenhouse gas emissions. The Council, alongside world health authorities, states that climate change’s impact on health and health services is the leading risk to global health this century. The burning of fossil fuels, including the risk of mining Southland’s vast reserves of dirty lignite, is the main cause of this health crisis.

“Meeting our international responsibilities to addressing climate change means rapidly moving to a low carbon economy. Doing so can have sizeable health and economic gains by reducing major diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as create a fairer society”, says Dr Metcalfe. “Keeping new coal and lignite in the ground is vital to this transition”.

In contrast to BERL’s report, ailing state-owned company Solid Energy threatens to mine and process Southland’s lignite. Southland has about 3.5 billion tonnes of this low energy, low value form of coal. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has warned that mining Southland’s lignite means greenhouse gases equal to about 70 years of New Zealand’s current emissions. “This completely undermines everyone else’s efforts to reduce emissions”, says Dr Metcalfe.

“Our farming and fisheries exports also rely on slowing the changing climate and acidifying ocean. This means leaving lignite deposits in the ground.”

Dr Metcalfe concludes: “BERL’s report confirms Southland’s natural advantages as a valuable food basket and generator of renewable energy. We support Southlanders in choosing a future that is rich in jobs, healthy and hopeful for everyone.”


OraTaiao: The NZ Climate & Health Council
Media liaison Dr Alex Macmillan 021 167 7095 [email protected]

Other contacts

Dr Scott Metcalfe Co‐convenor

OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council Mob. 021 2010 440 [email protected]

Dr Rhys Jones
OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council Tel. 09 923 6278
Mob. 021 411 743
[email protected]

Background notes

Dr Scott Metcalfe is a public health medicine specialist. He is a founding co-convenor of OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council.

Links to reports

The report by BERL (Business and Economic Research Limited) is available on the WWF-New Zealand website at lignite-alternatives.

‘Lignite and climate change: the high cost of low grade coal’, the report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment outlining major concerns about Southland lignite, is available at

‘Lignite mining and processing in Southland New Zealand: a fossil-fuelled disaster for current and future generations’, a major synopsis written last year by University of Otago medical students on the health impacts of lignite, including climate change, is available at df.

About Southland, climate change, lignite and oysters

A green economy in Southland can help mitigate climate change. OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council has previously expressed concern on both Southland’s emissions contributing to climate change and climate change’s effects on Southland. The Council submitted in July on the Draft Proposed Southland Regional Policy Statement, linking large-scale lignite mining and subsequent emissions to other sectors of the Southland economy, viz Foveaux Strait oyster and fisheries via ocean acidification (contributed to by Southland’s own exported greenhouse gases).

The Council’s submission was co-signed by a number of prominent Southland-based and linked doctors, and is available on the OraTaiao website’s Submissions page at osed+Southland+Regional+Policy+Statement+2012+-+final.pdf.

The direct effects on Southland of a changing climate will be major including flooding (which can be highly expensive and devastating for communities, as the 1984 floods demonstrated), landslips blocking roads or damaging buildings, heavy snowfalls (such as September 2010 with high lambing casualties), storm surges and erosion along coastal areas (combining storms with rising sea levels), or indeed droughts affecting farm viability.

Most Southlanders alive today, as with all New Zealanders, will experience adverse impacts from our excess emissions generated now and during this decade. (Although there is a time lag between emissions released into the atmosphere and climate impact, almost two-thirds of the climate impact of emissions from today onwards will be experienced by many Southlanders living today. Analysis lead by climate scientist James Hanson estimates the time required for 60% of global warming to take place in response to increased emissions to be in the range of 25 to 50 years. When combined with NZ life expectancy data, this means that Southlanders in their early thirties and younger will experience around two-thirds of adverse climate effects in their lifetimes, and probably the extent of the Southland population adversely impacted will include those aged in their late fifties and younger.) Technological change with widespread adoption is simply not emerging fast enough to avoid the bottom line the world must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions this decade, and certainly not find new ways of increasing emissions.

Fisheries are increasingly under threat from ocean acidification, caused by excess carbon dioxide, the key greenhouse gas destabilising our climate. This will directly affect the Southland economy, where rising acidity threatens marine life, including shellfish and fisheries which are vital to the Southland economy, let alone food security and livelihoods worldwide. Especially fast rates of change are expected in the Southern Ocean due to its cold water temperatures and hence effects on water chemistry. Worryingly for the Foveaux Strait oyster beds, increases in ocean acidification have now been linked to the collapse of oyster seed production overseas.

Forestry has an important role in climate mitigation, absorbing CO2 emissions and as a source of renewable energy, as well as traditional export and domestic value which provide local employment.

About climate and health

Climate change is widely recognised by world health authorities and leading medical journals to be the biggest global health threat of the 21st century and this is well-accepted by New Zealand medical professional bodies. Major threatsboth direct and indirectto global health from climate change will occur through water and food insecurity, threats to shelter and human settlements, population displacement and migration, extreme climatic events, changing patterns of disease, risks to security (e.g. war), and loss of economic potential.

Conversely, addressing climate change is an opportunity to improve population health and reduce inequities. In New Zealand, well designed policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can bring about substantial health co-benefits including reductions in heart disease, cancer, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, respiratory disease, and motor vehicle injuries, and improvements in mental health. These substantial health gains are possible through strategies such as transport infrastructure redesign to encourage active travel, healthy eating (including reduced red meat and animal fat consumption), and improving home insulation.

About OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate & Health Council
OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council is an incorporated society comprising over 150 senior doctors and other health professionals concerned about climate change impacts on health and health services. 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: The New Zealand Climate and Health Climate is part of this international movement. It has published a number of articles about climate change and health in peer-reviewed medical journals, which can be found on its website

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 CO2equivalents by:

o rapidly halving our own emissions by 2020;
o 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.


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