Doctors say the decision to grant resource consent for a new coal mine in the North Waikato shows how the law in New Zealand is failing to protect human health from the negative effects of climate change.
Glencoal, owned by Fonterra, wants to build and operate the Mangatangi Open-Cast Coal Mine in rural Waikato to provide coal to the boilers of Fonterra’s dairy factories at Waitoa, Te Awamutu and Hautapu.
Coal, as the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is a major driver of our changing climate. The latest UN climate scientists consensus report explains the limited carbon budget that the world faces, with a call for ‘substantial and sustained’ emissions reductions. It’s now widely recognised that to avoid a dangerously changing climate with food and water shortages, extreme weather events and increased infectious disease, then most of the world’s known reserves of fossil fuels must stay in the ground.
Dr Hayley Bennett from OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council says “Not being able to talk about climate change under the Resource Management Act is very frustrating”.
Dr Bennett explains “The Courts in New Zealand have decided that it isn’t necessary for local authorities to take into account effects on climate change in resource consent decisions. In the Mangatangi case, the local Council did not have to consider how mining and burning this coal will damage our climate, nor did it need to consider the economic risks of investing in last century technology”.
Doctors from OraTaiao believe legal frameworks in New Zealand are failing to protect people from the negative health effects of climate change.
Dr Bennett says “The combination of a Resource Management Act that ignores the climate impact of local consent decisions with an ineffective Emissions Trading Scheme, means that climate threats are not dealt with at either local or national levels. Yet our changing climate is arguably the biggest risk to human health, our environment and our economy.”
As well as changing our global climate, coal mining also has potential health costs for local communities. There can be health impacts at each step of mining, transport, and combustion of coal. “Although we recognise that coal mining has been an important source of employment for some regions, we argue that communities deserve healthier, more sustainable employment, as part of New Zealand’s transition to a secure, low carbon future”.
“Despite the barriers to stopping coal’s health and climate damage, our duty as doctors and health professionals is protecting the health of our patients and communities”, ends Dr Bennett.