Climate Change minister must make urgent health appointment

JOINT MEDIA STATEMENT – OraTaiao, RACP, NZMA, Health Promotion Forum of NZ, 25 March 2021

Health organisations have written to Climate Change Minister James Shaw asking him to appoint a public health expert to the Climate Change Commission to ensure Aotearoa improves health as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions could be one of the most important public health interventions of our time, but whether or not we realise the health benefits will depend on what kind of actions we take. The Climate Change Commission is preparing essential advice for the Government on how Aotearoa reduces its emissions but they aren’t looking at health evidence or working with public health experts. We are calling on Minister Shaw and on the Climate Commission to recognise that human health is a fundamental human right, and asking that they work directly with health experts as a matter of urgency,” said Dr Dermot Coffey, Co-convenor, OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council.

Twelve health professional organisations, including OraTaiao, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand, and NZ Medical Association wrote to Climate Change Minister James Shaw on Wednesday 17 March asking that a public health expert be appointed to the board of the Commission and that a health working group is formed as a matter of urgency. So far, the Commission has worked closely with industry groups and some experts but has not drawn on the extensive evidence or expertise around health and climate change.

“Health is afforded a cursory mention in the Commission’s first draft advice to the Government, but we know from the evidence and modelling studies that the health impacts of climate change will be varied and unrelenting” said Dr George Laking, a medical oncologist and Aotearoa NZ President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, “With public health expertise at the heart of climate change advice to government, health equity is much more likely to be the norm for all. This means healthy housing, good work and whānau wellbeing can be outcomes of mitigation actions to support our people, our built environment and our natural environment”.

“Human wellbeing is environmental wellbeing. Therefore, we need public health as a crucial part of the policy-making process,” said Sione Tu’itahi, Executive Director, Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand.

NZ Medical Association Chair, Dr Kate Baddock said, “Tackling climate change gives us a real opportunity to address existing disparities in health and contribute to equity of health outcomes. For example, a shift to active and public transport, a diet with less red meat and animal fat, and improved housing energy efficiency will reduce greenhouse gas emissions but will also reduce type 2 diabetes, heart disease, road traffic accidents, cancer and respiratory disease. To ensure that these health gains are maximised, we need expertise in public health and health equity when formulating climate policies.”


Media Spokesperson: Dr. Dermot Coffey 021 0267 5452

Dr Dermot Coffey ([email protected]) is a General Practitioner in Christchurch, and Acting Co-Convenor of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council.

OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council is a health professional organisation urgently focusing on the health threats of climate change and the health opportunities of climate action. See:

Notes to editors:

Please find attached the letter to Climate Change Minister Hon James Shaw which was also sent to Health Minister Hon Andrew Little and to Climate Change Commission Chair Rod Carr.

Also see OraTaiao’s guide to submitting to the Climate Change Commission:

We are also preparing our own evidence-based submission which will be published on our website at the end of this week.

 About Climate Change and Health

Information is available in the following paper from the 2014 NZ Medical Journal:‘Health and equity impacts of climate change in Aotearoa-New Zealand, and health gains from climate action’. 

See also:

Health threats from climate changes include: worsening illness and injury from heat and other extreme weather, changing patterns of infection including food poisoning, loss of seafood and farming livelihoods, food price rises and mass migration from the Pacific. Those on low incomes, Māori, Pacific people, children and older people will be hit first and hardest, but nobody will be immune to the widespread health and social threats of unchecked climate change. Direct and indirect climate change impacts are already being seen here from warming oceans and sea level rise.

See the 2020 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: 

Health opportunities from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, easing pressure on health budgets include:rapidly phasing out coal; switching from car trips to more walking, cycling and public transport; healthier diets lower in red meat and dairy; and energy efficient, warm homes will all cut emissions while also reducing the diseases that kill New Zealanders most and put our children in hospital – cancer, heart disease, lung diseases and car crash injuries. 

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