MEDIA STATEMENT, 8 July 2021
“New Zealand’s ranking of zero points on the Global Climate and Health Alliance health scorecard for climate commitments sounds the siren for urgent action,” says Dr Dermot Coffey, Co-convenor of OraTaiao: NZ Climate and Health Council. The GCHA today publicly released the climate health scorecard for the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) of 66 countries with NZ sharing bottom place with just 3 others.
Resuscitating New Zealand’s international climate credibility is urgent, Dr Coffey states.
“Most critical is that our climate action does everything possible to support global efforts to limit the world’s warming within a humanly adaptable 1.5 degrees. This means a ten-fold increase in our NDC climate commitment ambition.”
He continued, “That action – mandated by our climate law – absolutely must include the immediate and significant savings from health-based climate protection, count the human health costs of climate changes, and finance our health sector’s adaptation.”
“As a relatively well-off nation, we have already agreed to move to net zero much faster. Yet Costa Rica scored highest at 13/15. Despite pandemic pressures, the US scored 6/15 and UK 7/15, with both countries counting health co-benefits, and climate-health policies already in place in the UK.
“Our government has just a few months to act, so that at the UN climate meeting “Race to Zero” COP#26 this November, NZ can present our revised NDC with a healthy emissions reduction plan that reflects us as a nation: a science-based, just transition which is globally fair.
“We are facing a human health and wellbeing emergency,” concludes Dr Coffey. “Millions of lives are at stake every year now, how fast the world races to net zero determines our human health and well-being. Most New Zealanders want both government and businesses to do so much more to protect our climate. Let’s lift this zero score now.”
Media Spokesperson: Dr. Dermot Coffey 021 0267 5452
Dr Dermot Coffey([email protected]) is a General Practitioner in Christchurch, and Co-Convenor of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council.
Note to editors
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
Additional source and information
Climate Analytics webtool visualises national emissions reductions pathways and shows New Zealand's current settings are not on target for a net zero goal.
About Climate Change and Health
Human-caused climate change is a serious and urgent threat to human health. Climate change and its environmental manifestations (e.g. warmer temperatures, more heat waves, altered rainfall patterns, more extreme weather such as heavy rainfall events and/or drought, tropical storms, sea-level rise) result in many risks to human health, both direct and indirect, that are recognised by world health authorities and leading medical journals alike.
Globally, leading health threats include water and food shortages, extreme weather events, and changing patterns of infectious disease. In NZ there will also be new health and social pressures relating to climate migrant and refugee populations arriving in NZ and flow-on health impacts from changes in the global economy. NZ already has a relatively high burden of several diseases that are sensitive to climatic conditions, and climate trends may already be affecting the health of New Zealanders.
It has been estimated that climate change already causes 400,000 deaths per year globally through malnutrition, heat illnesses, diarrhoeal infections, vector (e.g. mosquito) borne disease, meningitis and environmental disasters; and that this number will increase substantially by 2030 if current emission patterns continue. These health impacts most seriously affect people in developing countries, and the most disadvantaged and vulnerable within all countries.
Health Co-benefits of Climate Action
Addressing climate change is an opportunity to improve population health and reduce inequities (unfair differences in health between different population groups). In NZ, well-designed policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can bring about substantial health co-benefits including reductions in heart disease, cancer, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal disease, respiratory disease, and motor vehicle injuries, and improvements in mental health - with resultant cost savings for the health care system.
These co-benefits arise because some emission reductions measures impact on important determinants of health, especially energy intake (nutrition) and expenditure (physical movement). For example:
- Active transport (walking, cycling, public transport) improves physical activity, reduces emissions, and can reduce air pollution and road traffic injuries. Walking and cycling are inexpensive, and public transport is used proportionately more by people with lower incomes – with benefits to health, climate and equity.
- Healthy eating, including increased plant and less red meat and animal fat consumption, would reduce the emissions associated with food production and likely lead to reduced rates of bowel cancer and heart disease.
- Improving indoor environments (e.g. energy efficiency measures such as home insulation) can reduce illnesses associated with cold, damp housing (e.g. childhood asthma and chest infections which are leading causes of hospital admissions, particularly for Māori and Pacific children).
- Increasing energy efficiency and/or moving away from fossil fuels would reduce health-damaging air pollution (e.g. particulates) from fuel combustion, in both indoor and outdoor environments, with large health gains.
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