MEDIA RELEASE, 27 October 2022
Health is at the mercy of a fossil fuel addiction. That’s the stark message from the seventh annual report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, launched in London today by the world's highest-impact general medical journal.
The report shows that greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels reached a record high last year, deepening the climate crisis and amplifying the effects of energy shortages, the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.
“A health-centred response to these coexisting crises provides an opportunity to deliver a healthy, low-carbon future”, said OraTaiao Co-convenor Dr Dermot Coffey. “Without it, the burden of the addiction to fossil fuels on our health will keep rising.”
The Lancet Countdown report tracks 43 indicators of health and climate change, assessed by a panel of global experts.
“Heat exposure is a growing threat to health and wellbeing”, said Dr Coffey. “Between 2000-2004 and 2017-2021, there has been a 68% increase in heat-related mortality worldwide among people over the age of 65. Even more concerning, deaths of New Zealanders over 65 from heat exposure rose by 165%.”
“Rising temperatures are also reducing working hours – and the livelihoods needed to sustain people’s wellbeing – especially in agriculture. Heat exposure led to 470 billion potential labour hours lost globally in 2021, including 1.42 million hours lost in New Zealand.”
OraTaiao Co-Convenor Summer Wright said the report reinforces the urgent need to transform our food systems to support a healthy, low-carbon diet. “Globally, 55% of agricultural sector emissions come from red meat and dairy production, which is also leading to 11.5 million diet-related deaths annually.”
“Here in Aotearoa, the figures are proportionately higher. An accelerated transition to more plant-based diets would not only help to cut the 71% of agricultural emissions produced by farm animals, it would also reduce the 3,400 deaths attributable each year to high consumption of red meat, processed meat, and dairy products.”
“OraTaiao will convey this message as strongly as possible in our upcoming submission on the Government’s proposals for pricing agricultural emissions, and calls on other health professionals to do the same. It is already being seen that the costs of inaction in agriculture will be borne above all by vulnerable groups, including rural communities, Māori, disabled people, children, and people living with low incomes.”
“Extreme weather events around the world caused damage worth US$253 billion last year”, said Dr Coffey. “This includes damage to hospitals and other health care facilities. Extreme weather here in July caused the 1-in-100 year floods in Nelson and on the West Coast, forcing the evacuation of the rural Buller Hospital. The nearby hospital in Greymouth sits on the coast and just above sea level, too. Other hospitals vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise include Middlemore, which serves the Māori and Pacific communities of South Auckland.”
“Urgent action is needed to strengthen our health-system resilience and to prevent loss of lives and suffering in a changing climate. And yet New Zealand is one of 47 countries which have not yet assessed the adaptation needs of their health systems. OraTaiao repeats the call we made in our submission on the National Adaptation Plan for an urgent assessment of health sector resilience and a Health National Adaptation Plan.”
“The week after next”, said Ms Wright, “the New Zealand Government delegation will be heading into the COP27 conference in Egypt. These talks will focus on delivering the goal of the Paris Agreement – to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
“Current commitments from countries are not up to the task. The world is on track to a catastrophic 2.7°C increase by the end of the century, with an untold burden of disease. Despite growing recognition of the health-climate change nexus, New Zealand is one of 65 countries with no mention of health at all in our Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement.
“In this pivotal moment”, said Ms Wright, “a health-centred response to the current crises would still provide the opportunity for a low-carbon, resilient future, which not only avoids the health harms of accelerated climate change, but also delivers improved health and wellbeing through the associated co-benefits of climate action.”
OraTaiao calls on the New Zealand Government to put health at the centre of all climate discussions and heed the words of former Prime Minister Helen Clark at today’s launch of the Lancet Countdown Report:
“The evidence produced by the Lancet Countdown shows the many and immediate benefits which accelerated climate action would bring about. We could save millions of lives a year.”
For more information, contact:
Dr. Dermot Coffey 021 0267 5452
Summer Wright 027 379 8339
Dr Dermot Coffey ([email protected]) is a General Practitioner in Christchurch.
Summer Wright (Ngāti Maniapoto) ([email protected]) is a dietitian and a PhD candidate at Massey University.
They are the joint Co-Convenors of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council.
Note to editors
About Lancet Countdown:
The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change exists to monitor this transition from threat to opportunity. They are a collaboration of 99 leading experts from academic institutions and UN agencies across the globe, bringing together climate scientists, engineers, energy specialists, economists, political scientists, public health professionals and doctors.
Link to 2022 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: https://www.lancetcountdown.org/2022-report/
Link to the OraTaiao submission on the Draft National Adaptation Plan, calling for an urgent assessment of health sector resilience and a Health National Adaptation Plan: https://www.orataiao.org.nz/submission_on_the_draft_national_adaptation_plan