NZ ongoing climate and health failure ahead of COP26

NZ ongoing climate and health failure ahead of COP26

MEDIA STATEMENT, 27 October 2021

Seven health professional organisations (OraTaiao; NZ Medical Association; NZ Nurses Organisation; and the Colleges for Emergency Medicine, of Nurses, Physicians, and Anaesthetists) have written a joint letter to Prime Minister Ardern and the Climate Change Minister ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26, calling for a huge increase in Aotearoa’s international climate contribution, and asking to keep the capacity to limit global warming within a humanly adaptable 1.5 degrees.

“Unfortunately Aotearoa is still shirking its fair share of climate action. A stable global climate is essential for human health and yet New Zealand continues to be one of the world’s worst climate polluters and our government is failing to protect our health from climate impacts,” said OraTaiao Co-convenor Dr Dermot Coffey.

A recent assessment of New Zealand’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) by the Global Climate and Health Alliance shows NZ as one of the worst performing countries on climate and health. It says, “There is no content in New Zealand’s updated NDC that makes any reference to health. This was also the case for New Zealand’s 2016 submission. Its climate ambition also falls far short of the level of ambition required to meet the Paris Agreement. Notably, New Zealand’s updated NDC submission was the shortest of any country analysed, at just slightly over one page.” 

Dr Coffey said, “We need healthy, fair, Tiriti-based action at home to quickly cut our own carbon and methane emissions, in addition to fairer financial aid for poorer nations. The government recently committed to quadrupling our climate finance for developing countries which is a move in a fairer direction, but we have to catch up fast with a much more ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution.”

Health evidence clearly calls for strong fast climate protection. A recent editorial published in over 200 health journals says, "The greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C and to restore nature". 

Dr Coffey said, “To be a credible leader at COP26, New Zealand cannot turn up empty-handed. We must lead by example and prove our commitment to improving on the recent damning assessments of New Zealand’s climate policy. We must be part of the solution to this climate crisis.”


Media Spokesperson: Dr. Dermot Coffey 

Dr Dermot Coffey ([email protected] ) is a General Practitioner in Christchurch, and Co-Convenor of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council.

Notes to editors

Health professional letter to the Prime Minister
Please see joint health professional letter to Prime Minister Ardern, copied to the Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson and Climate Change Minister James Shaw and signed by OraTaiao, the College of Nurses Aotearoa NZ, New Zealand Nurses Organisation, New Zealand Medical Association, Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), climate and health
The Healthy NDCs Scorecard by the Global Climate and Health Alliance ranks 46 NDCs covering 120 countries (see chart below comparing by country). The Scorecard covers updated and enhanced NDCs, which the UNFCCC requested to be submitted in the lead up to COP26.

The NDCs were assessed based on their attention to five health categories: health impacts, health in adaptation measures, health co-benefits, economics and finance, and bonus points available for overall prominence and integration of health.

Climate change is a health crisis
See an editorial published in over 200 health journals in September, “Call for emergency action to limit global temperature increases, restore biodiversity, and protect health” 

Public health and our international climate change response
WHO’s former Director General, Dr Margaret Chan stated earlier this year: “Health benefits will outweigh the costs of mitigation policies, even without considering the longer-term health and economic benefits of avoiding more severe climate change”. See

Detailed modelling on NDCs and health in nine countries showed, “a greater consideration of health in the NDCs and climate change mitigation policies has the potential to yield considerable health benefits as well as achieve the ‘well below 2°C’ commitment across a range of regional and economic contexts”.

Aotearoa’s greenhouse gas emissions are increasing
Climate Action Tracker New Zealand (2021) states that NZ’s climate policy is “highly insufficient”:

According to the Ministry for the Environment, “Between 1990 and 2019, NZ’s gross emissions increased by 26 per cent (17.2 Mt CO2-e). This increase is mostly due to increases in methane from dairy cattle digestive systems and carbon dioxide from road transport.” See 

For data on New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions compared to other countries see: 

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