Doctors say weak law leaves door wide open for coal-powered climate change

Doctors say the decision to grant resource consent for a new coal mine in the North Waikato shows how the law in New Zealand is failing to protect human health from the negative effects of climate change.

Glencoal, owned by Fonterra, wants to build and operate the Mangatangi Open-Cast Coal Mine in rural Waikato to provide coal to the boilers of Fonterra’s dairy factories at Waitoa, Te Awamutu and Hautapu.

Coal, as the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is a major driver of our changing climate. The latest UN climate scientists consensus report explains the limited carbon budget that the world faces, with a call for ‘substantial and sustained’ emissions reductions. It’s now widely recognised that to avoid a dangerously changing climate with food and water shortages, extreme weather events and increased infectious disease, then most of the world’s known reserves of fossil fuels must stay in the ground.

Dr Hayley Bennett from OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council says “Not being able to talk about climate change under the Resource Management Act is very frustrating”.

Dr Bennett explains “The Courts in New Zealand have decided that it isn’t necessary for local authorities to take into account effects on climate change in resource consent decisions. In the Mangatangi case, the local Council did not have to consider how mining and burning this coal will damage our climate, nor did it need to consider the economic risks of investing in last century technology”.

Doctors from OraTaiao believe legal frameworks in New Zealand are failing to protect people from the negative health effects of climate change.

Dr Bennett says “The combination of a Resource Management Act that ignores the climate impact of local consent decisions with an ineffective Emissions Trading Scheme, means that climate threats are not dealt with at either local or national levels. Yet our changing climate is arguably the biggest risk to human health, our environment and our economy.”

As well as changing our global climate, coal mining also has potential health costs for local communities. There can be health impacts at each step of mining, transport, and combustion of coal. “Although we recognise that coal mining has been an important source of employment for some regions, we argue that communities deserve healthier, more sustainable employment, as part of New Zealand’s transition to a secure, low carbon future”.

“Despite the barriers to stopping coal’s health and climate damage, our duty as doctors and health professionals is protecting the health of our patients and communities”, ends Dr Bennett.


OraTaiao: The NZ Climate & Health Council

Spokesperson and Media liaison

Dr Hayley Bennett, Public Health Medicine Specialist, 021 156 1469 [email protected]

Other contacts

Dr Rhys Jones Co‐convenor
Tel. 09 923 6278 Mob. 021 411 743 [email protected]
Dr Rhys Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) is a public health medicine specialist at the University of Auckland. He Co-convenes OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council.

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. The Council is politically non-partisan. Climate change remains a clear and present danger of unprecedented scale, and is accepted by health authorities worldwide as the leading global health threat this century.

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.

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:

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.

Fossil Fuels and Climate Change

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Erickson P, Lazarus M. Assessing the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Impact of New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure. SEI Discussion Brief. Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute, 2013. (

Health Impacts of Climate Change

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World Health Organization and World Meteorological Association. Atlas of Health and Climate Change, 2012.

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Joint letter 2009 from The Royal College of Physicians and 17 other professional bodies, published simultaneously in The Lancet and the BMJ. Politicians must heed health effects of climate change. Lancet. 2009;374:973; BMJ. 2009;339:b3672.

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Climate Change and Weaknesses of Resource Management Act and Emissions Trading Scheme

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Health Impacts of Coal Mining

Castleden WM, Shearman D, Crisp G, Finch P. The mining and burning of coal: effects on health and the environment. Med J Aust. 2011 Sep 19;195(6):333-5. burning-coal-effects-health-and-environment

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Recent roundtable discussion held in Australia (February 2013) involving five national health authorities highlighted the adverse health impacts associated with mineral energy - particularly coal. ment_Final_130213.pdf