Major international report describes climate change as a looming public health emergency

31 October 2017

New research shows that climate change is already damaging the health of millions of people and is a looming global health emergency. These are the conclusions of a joint reportfrom The Lancet Countdown, an international research collaboration that provides a global overview of the relationship between public health and climate change.

Dr Rhys Jones, Co-convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council, says the report should prompt widespread, urgent action. “It shows that the effects of climate change on human health are undeniable and potentially irreversible.”

New Zealand is not immune to the threats posed by climate change, as highlighted in a recent Royal Society of New Zealand report, Human Health Impacts of Climate Change for New Zealand.

“Direct and indirect impacts on health are already being seen in New Zealand. And we can expect worsening illness andinjury from heat and other extreme weather, changing patterns of infectious diseases, freshwater degradation, loss of livelihoods and food price rises.”

“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 effects of unchecked climate change,” says Dr Jones.

The Lancet Countdownreport also highlights that the inadequate global response to climate change over the past 25 years has jeopardised human health and resulted in avoidable deaths.

However, Dr Jones says that we still have an opportunity to turn this looming medical emergency into the most significant advance for public health this century.

“The potential benefits and opportunities are staggering, and we know what actions are needed. 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 many of the major diseases that kill New Zealanders.”

“It’s a timely wake-up call for New Zealand. With a new government, there is significant potential for a step-change in efforts to tackle both the causes and impacts of climate change.”

“Climate change threatens to undermine the last 50 years of gains in public health, but we can turn it into a golden opportunity for better health and a fairer society. It’s make-or-break time,” says Dr Jones.


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.


Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change 2017 Report
The report and supporting information are available here.

Royal Society of New Zealand Report: Human Health Impacts of Climate Change for New Zealand
The report and supporting information are available here.

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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