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 Countries that become leaders in clean energy technology will prosper, while those that cling to outdated fossil fuel-based economies will fail.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.”