Health professionals support legal challenge against government’s climate policy

27 June 2017

New Zealanders’ health is at stake in a court case challenging the government over its failure to tackle climate change. Law student Sarah Thomson is taking on the Minister for Climate Change Issues, arguing that New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target is illegal.

As part of the global Paris Climate Agreement, our government chose a weak target of reducing climate-damaging emissions by 11% (below 1990 levels) by 2030. It plans to achieve this mostly by paying other countries to take action.

Ms Thomson’s case argues that the government’s analysis in setting this target was illogically one-sided.  Costs of emissions-reduction action were counted, but the wider gains from climate action and the very real costs of climate changes were ignored. 

“From a health perspective alone, Ms Thomson’s case is compelling,” says Dr Rhys Jones of OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council. “Climate change is a medical emergency – and our government’s inaction threatens New Zealanders’ wellbeing, both now and into the future.”

There are two critical aspects to this issue. First, New Zealand must play its part in global efforts to reduce emissions – to limit warming and protect against the most serious impacts of climate change.

“New Zealand’s target is clearly inadequate,” says Dr Jones. “Our emissions per person are amongst the highest in the world – and we can hardly demand big emitters like China, the US and India do more to protect us if we won’t do our fair share.”

The other major aspect relates to our shorter-term interests. “If we focused on doing what’s best for New Zealanders, we would also choose much larger and more urgent cuts in emissions,” says Dr Jones. “That’s because well-planned climate action leads to better health.”

“For example, we know that energy-efficient homes are healthier, protecting our climate and freeing up hospital beds. Rapid moves to more walking, cycling and public transport will cut transport emissions, reduce air pollution, and boost physical activity – reducing the burden of diabetes, heart and lung disease, and cancer. If we do these things right, we can also reduce social and health inequities.”

“The government’s blinkered approach to climate change is already harming New Zealanders’ health and wellbeing,” says Dr Jones. “As health professionals calling for a healthier, fairer New Zealand, we strongly support this important legal climate challenge.”


Media Spokesperson: Dr Rhys Jones, Ph. 021 411 743 

Dr Rhys Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) ([email protected]) is a Public Health Physician and Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, and Co-convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council.



OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council (OraTaiao, The Council) is an incorporated society of over 500 health professionals calling for urgent and fair climate action. We know that climate changes fundamentally threaten human health and wellbeing – and that well-designed climate action can mean greater health and fairness now and in the longer term. Within its membership, OraTaiao has some of the world’s leading climate-health experts. We link with international climate-health organisations internationally, plus other New Zealand health groups. See more at

Background about the case:

“Why I’m taking the NZ government to court”, Sarah Thomson, The Spinoff, 16 June 2017.

NZ-specific climate-health information:

‘Health and equity impacts of climate change in Aotearoa-New Zealand, and health gains from climate action’.


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