Mandate needed to end District Health Boards’ climate pollution

MEDIA STATEMENT9 October 2020

Following the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) announcement that it will commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2040, NZ health professionals are asking the NZ Government to require emissions reductions in our health sector in Aotearoa NZ.

“Healthcare systems in the developed world are some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and are causing significant harm to health globally by contributing to climate change. In order for the NZ health system to change our Government needs to set a mandatory greenhouse gas reduction target for the health sector and make sure it is met,” said Dr Dermot Coffey, Co-convenor, OraTaiao: NZ Climate and Health Council.

On 1 October, the NHS in the United Kingdom announced its commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040, and net zero within its supply chain by 2045. The NHS also released a report outlining its plan to become the world’s first “net zero” national health service.

“This is a ground-breaking report which sets the standard for other health systems to follow, including NZ,” said Dr Matthew Jenks, Anaesthetist at Dunedin Hospital and member of the Sustainable Health Sector National Network. “The NZ Government has been taking tentative steps in the right direction and there are pockets of excellence within NZ but progress is ad hoc and many District Health Boards (DHBs) have made no significant progress to reduce emissions. We still have hospitals that are burning coal as an energy source,” said Dr Jenks.

In 2019 over 900 NZ health workers delivered a strong message to the Government in a letter asking for the Ministry of Health to mandate that DHBs measure greenhouse gas emissions, set greenhouse gas reduction targets, and report on progress annually.

“The Government needs to provide the budget and support for DHBs to change how they operate for the long-term good of the sector and people’s health. We are asking for urgent, concrete action to ensure that DHBs, Pharmac and the wider health sector are held accountable for their greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr Jenks.

“We think there needs to be a mandate for all DHBs. This could be backed up with every DHB having a net zero lead on the executive board, as is planned for the NHS, to ensure implementation. As health professionals we find it intolerable that our systems are so high emitting– it goes against the Hippocratic Oath which requires us to do no harm,” said Dr Coffey.

ENDS

Media Spokespeople: Dr. Dermot Coffey 021 0267 5452 or Dr Matthew Jenks 021 236 5947

Dr Dermot Coffey (co-convenor@orataiao.org.nz) is a General Practitioner in Christchurch, and Acting Co-Convenor of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council.

Dr Matthew Jenksis an anaesthetist at Dunedin Hospital, member of the Sustainable Health Sector National Network and executive board member of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council.

OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council is a health professional organisation urgently focusing on the health threats of climate change and the health opportunities of climate action. See: www.orataiao.org.nz

Sustainable National Health Sector Network is a network of health professionals around Aotearoa that are working to embed carbon reduction and sustainability into the NZ health sector. See https://www.orataiao.org.nz/health_sector_carbon_reduction_and_sustainability

Notes to editors:

Health sector sustainability

  • Presently, in countries like New Zealand, the health sector contributes 3-8% of total GHG emissions.
  1. NHS, Public Health and Social Care. Carbon Footprint 2012 (January 2014)
  2. Malik A, et al. The Carbon Footprint of Australian Healthcare. Lancet, Jan 2018.
  3. Chung JW, Meltzer DO. Estimate of the carbon footprint of the US health care sector. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2009;