OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council is appalled that our government has now refused to join a second Kyoto commitment period. This ends a bleak week for climate action with changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme removing any pretence of reducing emissions.
The NZ Climate and Health Council calls on the government to listen to New Zealanders and take real action on climate change.
For a country like New Zealand, standing on the sidelines waiting for everyone else to act first is not an option. Council spokesperson Dr Rhys Jones says: ‘New Zealand is climate-exposed with our agriculture and fishing industries, and we need the cooperation of the rest of the world. But we cannot underestimate the chilling message we send if New Zealanders, as some of the highest climate polluters in the world and with plentiful natural resources, refuse to develop a low emissions economy.’
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.
Dr Rachel Eyre, Dr Russell Tregonning, Liz Springford letter. Discusses climate risk avoided by the mothballing of lignite coal briquette plant at Mataura. Southland Times, October 26 2013.
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.
Health professionals are highly critical of the recent move by the New Zealand government to bail out Solid Energy. The bailout involves a direct cash injection of $25 million of taxpayer money and another $130 million in loans.
“It is counterproductive for health and social goals, as well as representing extremely poor economic management”, claims Dr Rhys Jones from OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council.
“Climate change is the number one threat to public health in the 21st century”, says Dr Jones. “In order to avoid the worst effects, we need to dramatically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. This requires us to leave the overwhelming majority of known fossil fuel reserves, including coal, in the ground.”
Dr Jones continues: “What this means is that the writing is on the wall for coal, and that the future lies in renewable energy – any other scenario spells disaster for humanity. Countries that become leaders in clean energy technology will prosper, while those that cling to outdated fossil fuel-based economies will fail. The current New Zealand government insists on taking us down the latter path, which is economically irresponsible, if not suicidal.”
“The bailout is the exact opposite of what the government should be doing to achieve health, social and environmental goals”, argues Dr Jones. “Burning fossil fuels, particularly coal, results in serious risks to human health. On the other hand, actions to reduce emissions and promote low carbon lifestyles can have enormous gains for health and wellbeing.”
The bailout decision comes just days after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest scientific consensus report. The report highlighted, with even greater certainty than before, the threat of climate change, and reiterated the urgent need for substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
“Despite the clarity and magnitude of the threat of climate change, the New Zealand government has failed to take appropriate action” says Dr Jones. “This bailout represents yet another attempt to bury our heads in the sand and continue with a doomed business-as-usual model.”
Dr Jones believes that rather than subsidising fossil fuel exploitation, the government should be investing in forward-looking economic development. “Global investment in new renewable energy is already overtaking investment in fossil fuels and nuclear combined. The technology is here now, we can do this easily – we just have to make the right choices. Reliance on coal mining is not what towns like those on the West Coast need. What is needed is investment in a resilient economic future.”
Doctors are praising the Biodiversity Defence Society’s legal steps yesterday to stop another new coal mine. The Biodiversity Defence Society filed declaration proceedings with the Environment Court on Wednesday, arguing that Solid Energy no longer holds resource consents for its Cypress Mine. The resource consents for the mine – gained in 2005 – were due to expire at the end of 2012 if mining activity had not begun. Seven years later only a road has been built.
Dr Russell Tregonning from OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council, says ‘For the sake of our health, we need to overcome our addiction to fossil fuels, and that includes not opening new coal mines. Every tonne of carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere makes our future that much harder to manage’.
This step to declare the Cypress Mine consent as lapsed coincides with Bill McKibben’s tour of New Zealand this week. Bill McKibben is one of the world's most respected speakers and activists on climate change, and co-founder of global movement 350.org. His message ‘Do The Math’ makes it very clear that we need to emit less than 565 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide to stay within two degrees of global warming. Existing fossil fuel reserves are more than five times that. In other words, we need to leave at least 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground in order to avoid the most serious effects of climate change.
International organisations including the World Bank, PriceWaterHouseCoopers and the International Energy Agency have already warned us we’re on track for 3-4°C warming - the time to act is now. New Zealand’s economy is heavily dependent on our natural environment and we simply can’t afford to open up new coal mines, nor permit oil exploration.
‘For the sake of our health and our economy, New Zealand needs a just transition away from carbon- intensive coal mining’ says Dr Tregonning. The Climate and Health Council calls upon local and central government to support the West Coast to move away from coal mining. ‘The Coast needs healthier choices for employment, not a boom-and-bust industry that’s destroying the safe environment we all depend on’ says Dr Tregonning.
The lapsing of Solid Energy’s Cypress Mine resource consent is another step towards a healthier future without coal dependence.
'Mining Plan a West Coast Disaster'. OpEd by Dr Russell Tregonning, Nelson Mail 24 May 2013.
The OraTaiao submission on the Mangatawhiri coal mine resource consent application states:
OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council oppose the entire application. Our opposition to the application is on the basis of:
1. Direct effects of coal on health and wellbeing of miners, mining communities, and communities in proximity to sites of coal combustion.
2. Indirect effects of coal on health and wellbeing via climate change.
OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council, together with other international health bodies, recognise the adverse health impacts of the coal industry. Close to home, a recent roundtable discussion held in Australia (February 2013) involving five national health authorities highlighted the adverse health impacts associated with mineral energy - particularly coal. http://www.phaa.net.au/documents/130213Media%20Release_Health%20and%20Energy%20Roundtable%20Statement_Final_130213.pdf
Read full submission here.
'The State of New Zealand in 2100". Interview with Professor Alistair Woodward. TVNZ Seven Sharp March 12 2013.