Don't downsize NZ emissions scheme after superstorm Sandy

Doctors say the Government’s plans to downsize New Zealand’s only tool to combat climate change puts our country’s health at risk.

‘We’ve all seen the frightening footage of the devastation caused by superstorm Sandy this week’, says Dr Rhys Jones from the NZ Climate and Health Council. ‘If climate change continues unchecked, storms like this are predicted to become a regular occurrence. Yet our Government is pressing on with plans to water down our Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) that will make it completely useless.

The ETS Bill is likely to reach the committee stages this Tuesday 6 November, after having passed the second reading with a slim majority of 61 to 59. The Council is asking each of those 61 parliamentarians to reflect on the dangers to New Zealand’s economy, environment and health of rejecting a low emissions future.

The Council notes the majority of New Zealanders want action on climate change, according to the Horizon NZ survey released in August this year and this number is likely to have swelled since witnessing the extreme devastation of Sandy and rising global food prices as a result of US Mid-West droughts.

Yet 61 members of parliament’, says Dr Jones, ‘plan to pass legislation next week that will lock New Zealand into a high emissions economy and bloat our government debt by tens of billions of dollars by the mid-2020s. Foresters have already warned that the planned changes will reverse tree planting efforts.

Dr Jones says: ‘The reality is that is that our country has so many natural resources to grow food, plant forests and generate almost all our energy sustainably. There are also real health gains from low emissions lifestyles that enable New Zealanders to live longer, healthier and happier.’

‘New Zealand’s refusal to act responsibly, despite being amongst the highest climate polluters internationally, sends a terrible message to the rest of the world as we approach another round of international climate talks at the end of this month’, the Council concludes.


OraTaiao: The NZ Climate & Health Council
Media liaison Dr Scott Metcalfe 021 2010 440 [email protected]

Other contacts

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

Background notes

Dr Rhys Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) is a public health medicine specialist at the University of Auckland. He co-convenes OraTaiao: NZ Climate and Health.

Links to reports and commentary

Climate change action in NZ and the ETS:

  •   OraTaiao submission on ‘Updating the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme: A consultation document’, May 2012

  •   The Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Amendment Bill

  •   Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Submission. Bill.pdf

  •   The Sustainability Council of New Zealand’s ‘The Carbon Budget Deficit’ report;
    the table on page 27 details a $44b external carbon budget deficit for 2021-30 at $100/tonne

  •   United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Report of the in-depth review of the fifth national communication of New Zealand, February 2011.

  •   HorizonPoll released 10 August 2012. People want more action on climate change.

    Climate change and extreme weather events:

  •   Science Media Centre ‘IPCC report prepares for extreme weather’

  •   Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Special Report: Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX), March 2012.

  •   Modeled Impact of Anthropogenic Warming on the Frequency of Intense Atlantic Hurricanes. MA Bender et al. Science, 22 January 2010: 454-458.

  •   America’s Climate Choices: Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Advancing the science of climate change. National Research Council of The National Academies. Washington, D.C: The National Academies Press, 2010.,

  •   Climate change and Hurricane Sandy:
    M Fischetti. Did Climate Change Cause Hurricane Sandy? Scientific American Blogs, 30 October 2012 sandy/. Was Hurricane Sandy supersized by climate change? The Guardian Environment Blog, 30 October 2012. supersized-climate-change.

More about doctors and the ETS

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. 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.

According to the March 2012 major report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), evidence suggests that climate change has led to changes in climate extremes such as heat waves, record high temperatures and, in many regions, heavy precipitation in the past half century. Climate extremes, or even a series of non-extreme events, in combination with social vulnerabilities and exposure to risks, can produce climate-related disasters. Modelling by U.S. government researchers (Science, 2010) suggests fewer but fiercer and more-destructive hurricanes will sweep the Atlantic Basin in the 21st century as climate change continues, and The National Academies of Sciences state the destructive energy of Atlantic hurricanes is likely to increase in this century as sea surface temperatures rise.

Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Select Committee is presently reconsidering New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS); the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Amendment Bill is likely to reach the committee stages this Tuesday 6 November, after having passed the second reading.

The independent Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has labelled the ETS a ‘farce’, and the UNFCCC’s climate review team noted that New Zealand has no plans for much of our promised emissions cuts. According to the Parliamentary Commissioner, costs to taxpayers will total $1.3 billion over the next four years. This figure could become $44 billion in the 2020s, based on the Sustainability Council’s calculations at a plausible $100-a-tonne carbon price. Foresters are warning that the planned changes will reverse tree planting efforts (, says-nz-now-has-claytons-ets/).

The HorizonPoll showed that 67.5 per cent of respondents wanted business to do more to address global warming, 64.4 per cent wanting Parliament to do more, 60.6 per cent wanting the Prime Minister to do more, 62.9 per cent saying government officials should do more, 63.7 per cent saying that citizens should be making more effort, and 74.1 per cent saying that other countries should be doing more or much more. The poll, for Carbon News, was of 2829 New Zealanders aged 18-plus, taken between July 5 and July 16.

The Council holds that:

  •   The Bill will leave in place indefinitely the subsidies for heavy emitting industries, makes no provision for agriculture to enter the scheme, and removes the requirement for regular independent review.

  •   The ETS will continue to be a heavily taxpayer subsidised scheme with looming fiscal liabilities. It risks siphoning funds away from public services like health and education and New Zealand families, particularly Māori and low income New Zealanders, will suffer as a result.

The ETS doubly affects the most vulnerable, because not only will funds be diverted from the public purse, but the scheme also fails to protect communities from the direct and indirect health effects of climate change. Māori communities in particular will suffer because of poorer existing housing and community infrastructure, and economic reliance on threatened fishery and shellfish stocks. Weakening the ETS will also see New Zealand fail to realise the considerable health co-benefits that are associated with moving to a low carbon economy.

OraTaiao contends that if NZ will not choose a prosperous low emissions economy, we cannot expect other counties to.

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 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.


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