March 2021 Newsletter
Update on OraTaiao activities
Good news, interesting links, books
Update on OraTaiao activities
Put health at the heart of Aoteroa’s climate response!
The Climate Change Commission is consulting on its first package of advice to the Government which will help shape Aotearoa’s climate crisis response, but its draft advice won’t achieve many of the health or health equity co-benefits that could be made with the right kind of climate action and recommendations.
Use our guide to making a submission to the Climate Change Commission and ask the Commission to include health and health equity, and ask them to centralise te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Our guide was prepared by a dedicated group of OraTaiao volunteers who are also preparing a full submission on the Commission’s advice to Government.
See our guide to submissions here. Closing date is Sunday 28 March.
Call for Abstracts - Sustainable Healthcare and Climate Health Aotearoa Conference
The call for abstracts for this year’s conference is now open. The University of Otago, OraTaiao, Sustainable Health Sector National Network and GGHH Pacific region are partnering to deliver this annual event which will take place in Wellington and online. This year's theme is 'Re-thinking Sustainable Health in Aotearoa'. The deadline for abstracts is 11 April 2021. See here.
Climate Change Commission is missing urgent health opportunities say public health experts
“Climate change is a public health issue that warrants the same kind of urgent leadership and attention as COVID-19,” public health expert Dr Alex Macmillan has written in an open-access NZMJ editorial.
Climate policies being decided now - by the Climate Change Commission, “will have systemic effects on the building blocks of health equity with long-term consequences. We need to ensure the policies being designed are an opportunity for wellbeing rather than locking us into further health harm," according to Dr Macmillan.
A group of other public health experts, including Professor Nick Wilson, have posed serious questions about the Commission’s draft advice to Government: “While the report considers some aspects of inequality, this relates mainly to income. It does not touch at all on health inequalities, despite these already being a major concern practically, ethically and from the perspective of our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi (which the report mentions only twice).
“The most important gap in the report is arguably the large health gains that could arise from shifts to a more plant-based diet, with reduced consumption of ruminant meat and dairy products,” they told The Conversation.
- NZMJ: “The Climate Change Act will now shape the nation’s health: an assessment of the first policy recommendations to reach our zero carbon target”
- The Conversation: "NZ’s Climate Change Commission needs to account for the huge potential health benefits of reducing emissions"
- Newsroom: “Climate action speaks louder than words”
- Newsroom: “Climate Change Commission needs urgent help”
Image by Mathew Henry, Burst
Society needs to decarbonise to prevent fossil fuel deaths
Air pollution from burning fossil fuels caused nearly one in five premature deaths globally, more than previously thought, according to new research. In response to the research, OraTaiao Co-convenor Dr Dermot Coffey, told Stuff news, we need a “rapidly decarbonising society”.
Dr Coffey told Stuff news, air pollution in New Zealand disproportionately affects children, people in lower socio-economic groups and those with chronic health conditions, and that New Zealanders are overly dependent on cars and there is a lack of accessible and affordable public transport.
“Improving public transport in urban areas and making safe pathways would hugely improve our health,” according to Dr Coffey and, “Our streets aren’t safe enough or easy enough for cycling or walking.”
“We need to acknowledge the vast detrimental effects fossil fuel use has on our health, and to tailor our country’s response to the climate emergency to maximise the health benefits.”
- Stuff news: “Fix public transport to stop fossil fuel pollution deaths climate expert says”
- Harvard press release: “Deaths from fossil fuel emissions higher than previously thought”
- Environmental Research: “Global mortality from outdoor fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion: Results from GEOS-Chem"
Image by Jack Dylag
Overhaul of the Resource Management Act proceeding this year
The Government plans to repeal the Resource Management Act 1991(RMA) and replace it with three new pieces of legislation: Natural and Built Environments Act; Strategic Planning Act; and Climate Change Adaptation Act. The first select committee process is expected to begin in the middle of this year.
A fully-reformed RMA will have important ramifications for our response to climate change in Aotearoa as it will have an impact on areas as diverse as housing form, structure and density, urban form and transport infrastructure right through to rural land and water use. It will also frame our adaptation to the changes the climate crisis will bring, and needs to bring a central and effective role for Māori.
Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman said the new legislation should have strong environmental bottom lines: "It is hopeful that the proposed new legislation will incorporate biophysical limits that must not be breached. The test of the new legislation will be exactly what those limits are and whether these public interest environmental protections trump private profit driven applications."
According to an RNZ report, “Decade-long calls for stronger recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi in planning laws are yet to be realised, but are part of the package as the government prepares for a major overhaul of the RMA.” A collective of five prominent Māori organisations is advising the government on how best to uphold the Treaty of Waitangi in the designing of new environmental laws.
- Ministry for the Environment: Reforming the Resource Management System
- Newsroom: “Govt announces timeline for RMA reform”
- RNZ: “Treaty recognition part of RMA overhaul”
- RNZ: “Māori organisations collective advising govt on RMA”
Photo from Hobsonville Point
Ensuring healthy school lunches
The Government’s school lunch programme Ka Ora, Ka Ako could be the “biggest thing we have seen in child nutrition in past decade,” according to Professor Boyd Swinburn, but it needs to be evaluated and to ensure that it’s not caught by big catering firms without the opportunity for local suppliers or even the schools themselves to run it.
According to Prof Swinburn, the program could offer benefits to child wellbeing and reduce food hardship, and the Government also wants to nourish children so need to make sure it’s healthy food. Also there are opportunities to increase local employment and food system resilience. Prof Swinburn says evaluation needs to be ramped up in terms of these outcomes and also to, “look at diets from the health aspect and the environmental aspect”.
Photo from https://www.education.govt.nz/our-work/overall-strategies-and-policies/wellbeing-in-education/free-and-healthy-school-lunches/
Strengthening nationally determined contributions (NDCs) would benefit health – Lancet study
A new study published in the Lancet outlines how national climate action commitments under the Paris Agreement (the “nationally determined contributions” or NDCs) not only serve to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, but could also yield substantial health co-benefits in the process.
The Lancet study looked at nine representative countries (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK, and the USA) and found that, “Compared with the current pathways scenario, the sustainable pathways scenario resulted in an annual reduction of 1·18 million air pollution-related deaths, 5·86 million diet-related deaths, and 1·15 million deaths due to physical inactivity, across the nine countries, by 2040. Adopting the more ambitious health in all climate policies scenario would result in a further reduction of 462 000 annual deaths attributable to air pollution, 572 000 annual deaths attributable to diet, and 943 000 annual deaths attributable to physical inactivity. These benefits were attributable to the mitigation of direct greenhouse gas emissions and the commensurate actions that reduce exposure to harmful pollutants, as well as improved diets and safe physical activity.”
Existing NDCs are inadequate to achieve health goals, but In New Zealand, right now, the Climate Change Commission is consulting on what our NDCs should be and OraTaiao believes the Commission needs to recommend strengthening our contribution significantly.
New Zealand behind in global emissions reductions efforts
New Zealand is lagging behind other industrialised countries in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and also in its international commitments to reduce emissions.
According to the United Nations, New Zealand is ranked 42nd out of 43 industrialised wealthier countries putting it only ahead of Turkey in terms of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions.
New Zealand’s current efforts would not be consistent with keeping warming to 1.5 degrees by 2050, and while a number of other countries strengthened their commitments to reduce global warming at the end of last year (they increased their Nationally Determined Contributions), New Zealand was not one of them.
NZ’s Climate Change Commission is responsible for providing recommendations to the government on our NDCs, and OraTaiao believes the Commission needs to strengthen its advice in this regard. We have prepared a submission guide which has more information.
- United Nations: “Greenhouse Gas Inventory global map – Annex 1”
- Climate Action Tracker: “CAT Climate Target Update Tracker”
- Stuff news: “The year New Zealand must convince the world its climate rhetoric is more than hot air”
- “OraTaiao’s guide to submitting to the Climate Change Commission – Put health at the heart of Aoteroa’s climate response”
Image by Christina Maiia, Unsplash
Half of all urban journeys to be walked or cycled - UK government confirms commitment to ambitious scheme
The UK transport secretary has recently reaffirmed the country’s commitment to massively increasing active transport following publication of an ambitious report last year which promised, “thousands of miles of protected cycleways, bikes available on National Health Service prescription, and a pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly overhaul of the Highway Code.”
See the report, “Gear change: a bold vision for cycling and walking” which has lots of useful information for active transport planning.
- Forbes: Half Of All Urban Journeys Must Be Cycled Or Walked Within Ten Years, Confirms U.K. Government
- Gov.uk: “Gear change: a bold vision for cycling and walking”
Image from “Gear Change: A bold vision for walking and cycling”
Incorporating ecology and earth science into economics - “The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review”
This independent, global review presents a new economic framework, grounded in ecology and Earth Sciences at a time when biodiversity is declining faster than any other time in human history. The Review was commissioned by the UK Treasury department and was supported by an advisory panel drawn from public policy, science, economics, finance and business. The Review calls for changes in how we think, act and measure economic success to protect and enhance our prosperity and the natural world.
According to economist Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, “Ecosystems are missing from normal economic calculations,” and we need to recognise, “we have an amazing asset in which we happen to live and are part of which we are trashing because we have pretended they don’t exist”.
Prof Dasgupta proposes that wealth needs to be redefined to take into account natural and other forms of capital, and that “nations need balance sheets”, and he describes the climate as a “public good’.
“GDP is not fit for purpose as it’s supposed to be used as a measure of economic activity”. The review states GDP, “ is wholly unsuitable for appraising investment projects and identifying sustainable development”.
- RNZ podcast: “Sir Partha Dasgupta: GDP is not fit for purpose"
- “The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review”
Amsterdam is incorporating planetary and social boundaries in its Covid-19 recovery plans
Since April last year, Amsterdam city has been using a system of economics called Doughnut Economics to recover from Covid-19. The Doughnut Economic theory was developed by Oxford economist Kate Raworth and says, “Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. In other words, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend – such as a stable climate.”
This January, Time magazine published an article on Amsterdam’s progress using the Doughnut Economic theory: “Amsterdam’s ambition is to bring all 872,000 residents inside the doughnut, ensuring everyone has access to a good quality of life, but without putting more pressure on the planet than is sustainable. Guided by Raworth’s organization, the Doughnut Economics Action Lab, the city is introducing massive infrastructure projects, employment schemes and new policies for government contracts to that end. Meanwhile, some 400 local people and organizations have set up a network called the Amsterdam Doughnut Coalition to run their own programs at a grassroots level.”
According to the World Economic Forum, “Incorporating green programmes into recovery plans presents an opportunity to rebuild better, changing the way industries operate. The Netherlands' biggest city offers an example of how this might work in practice.”
- Time magazine: Amsterdam Is Embracing a Radical New Economic Theory to Help Save the Environment. Could It Also Replace Capitalism?
- Kate Raworth: What on Earth is the Doughnut?…
- World Economic Forum: “Here’s why the world’s recovery from COVID-19 could be doughnut shaped”
“We know good solutions are available” – US health organisations tell new administration
Dozens of United States health organisations and hundreds of individuals have prepared a list of recommendations on climate, health and equity for the new Biden-Harris Administration, saying, “Despite the health devastation we experienced over the past year, we remain optimistic about the future. We know that good solutions are available – solutions that provide unparalleled opportunities to simultaneously achieve immediate and significant health benefits, strengthen our economy, build racial and environmental equity, and achieve our climate goals.”
- "Climate, health and equity: Recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration"
- The Guardian: "Dizzying pace of Biden's climate action sounds death knell for era of denialism"
Climate change impacts are “costing lives here and now”
According to a new study, 1,500 Britons were killed by climate change-fuelled heat in the past two decades, and “far more data needed to be collected and analysed worldwide for the true consequences of climate change to be understood.”
The study said, “other countries also faced extreme weather costs exacerbated by climate change, both human and financial,” and gave examples of deaths in Puerto Rico from the increased intensity of Hurricane Maria in 2017, and climate change boosted cost of flood damage caused by heavy rainfall in the United States.
Hector Retamal | AFP | Getty Images
Air pollution and children’s health
Despite links “between air pollution and disease, few studies have investigated the effects of ambient air pollution on both the immune and cardiovascular system simultaneously, especially in children,” according to authors of a new study published in Nature.
The study found, ”associations between air pollution exposure and methylation of immunoregulatory genes, protein expression of associated immune cell types and clinical expression of blood pressure. This study thus suggests that pollution exposure early in life may be associated with multiple outcomes, potentially impacting long-term health into adulthood.”
- Nature: Air pollution exposure is linked with methylation of immunoregulatory genes, altered immune cell profiles, and increased blood pressure in children
Good news, interesting links, books
Food summit offers bold ideas to transform food systems
The United Nations food systems summit is happening presently. Its website and podcasts offer ideas for actions to transform the way the world produces and consumes food. It includes events and resources on subjects such as how to incentivise food loss and waste reduction.
- United Nations: Food Systems Summit 2021
OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council