Kia ora --
It’s business time. Our country’s decision in the upcoming election will have huge implications for the direction of our climate response. The lack of understanding of the climate crisis shown by the leaders of both major parties has been disappointing (both leaders Chris offering “recycling” as an important measure in their leaders’ debate). Climate has been sidelined throughout the campaigns, without acknowledgement of its central importance in all the other areas of voter concern.
Internationally, things are beginning to move rapidly as captured in the just-published International Energy Agency report. We have a choice to avoid returning to 20th-Century thinking and pick up the pace of our mitigation efforts. It’s unlikely that the IEA will ever be declared to be a pro-environment think-tank, which makes their statement that there is “no need for new oil and gas fields” all the more remarkable. It also questions the retrograde desire of some of our major parties to reopen oil and gas exploration in Aotearoa.
It hardly needs to be said, but make sure to vote! But go further, and talk to family and friends about which party and candidates you are voting for and why. Use and share our excellent election scorecard, and remember that we must continue to advocate for a healthy climate response regardless of who makes up our next government.
Dermot and Summer,
Co-convenors, OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council
1. Update on OraTaiao activities
2. National happenings
3. International news
4. Good news, interesting links, books
Healthy choices for voters
Our hotly-awaited Climate and Health Scorecard for 2023 is out now. This year, our scorecard results are based on how the parties answered and engaged with a series of questions relating to party policies for climate and health. This reflected not just policy itself, but the party’s desire to engage, interpret and enact that policy with respect to health and wellbeing. We acknowledge that this approachrequired parties to respond during busy electioneering, and that some parties are less resourced than others. We also recognise that parties prioritise this finite time and resources towards the areas which they feel are most important.
We are particularly mindful that Te Pāti Māori acknowledged our request, but were unable to respond within the timeframe. The Opportunities Party also acknowledged our request and pointed us towards their policies. As a result, these parties were not included in our scorecard, but may have had good or great climate health policies. Te Pāti Māori has been scored by the Climate Shift campaign as having a ‘best’ approach to climate change, alongside the Green Party.
In the assessment of our expert panel drawn from the OraTaiao executive and membership, no party scored perfectly. The overall message from our scorecard is that politicians still fail to recognise the health risks of climate change, and lack commitment to optimise the health and equity gains from well-designed and Te Tiriti-centred climate action. But there are clear and significant differences between the main parties and our votes and voices as climate health advocates should highlight that.
Stepping up to enact Te Tiriti
The OraTaiao Executive Board voted last month to adopt a new governance policy, outlining how the group will uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The updated policy was drafted by OraTaiao's Te Tiriti Rōpū, a working group comprising members of our Māori caucus and Executive Board which was established last year as part of implementing our Strategic Plan 2022-24. Major changes from the previous policy include:
Honouring Māori aspirations through mechanisms expressed in the Matike Mai Report. A commitment to moving towards a three-house model, as articulated in Matike Mai, is a principle goal of the Board.
• Upholding the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as articulated in the Waitangi Tribunal's Wai2575 Stage One Report on Health Services and Outcomes (namely, Tino Rangatiratanga, Equity, Active Protection, Options, and Partnership).
• Ensuring that our board members conduct themselves, personally and professionally, in a manner consistent with the policy.
No more stalling on agricultural emissions!
OraTaiao was dismayed by the Government's announcement last month that it proposes to defer the reporting and pricing of farm-level agricultural emissions under the Emissions Trading Scheme by two years, from 1 January 2024 to 1 January 2026.
As health professionals, we understand that the challenge posed by the climate crisis is to slow, then stop, then remove the flow of dangerous gases thickening the blanket of climate pollution overheating our world. Just like the human body, our planet has a very limited average temperature range where climate conditions are stable and we humans can thrive. Every tenth of a degree of overheating increases risks of tipping points and irrevocable harm.
Pricing the mega-tonnes of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emitted by the agriculture sector is essential to drive the deep cuts in our gross emissions that are needed to meet our domestic and international obligations. Our strong opposition to the proposed deferral was expressed in our submission to the Ministry for the Environment Manatū Mō Te Taiao.
- "Price agricultural climate pollution fast, well, and right now" – Submission to the Ministry for the Environment
Accelerate the transport shift
The long-delayed draft Government Policy Statement on land transport (GPS) was finally released for consultation last month. Updated every three years, the GPS sets the Government’s six priorities for land transport investment over the next 10-year period. It also sets out how money from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) is spent on “activity classes” such as public transport, state highway improvements, local roads, and road safety. An earlier draft which made climate change the top priority was scrapped by the Government in February.
OraTaiao's submission to Te Manatū Waka (Ministry of Transport) urges the Ministry to reinstate “rapidly reducing emissions” as the top strategic priority in GPS2024. This means a major shift in funding, to frontload investment in active and public transport modes and accelerate the necessary shift away from predominantly privately owned vehicle transport. We believe the second strategic priority is ensuring “resilience”. The third strategic priority is “health and safety”, as the transport sector has a big influence on the health of New Zealanders.
The final GPS is required to be released by July 2024. OraTaiao's full submission is available here.
Climate tips for med students
Hot off the press, the September 2023 issue of the New Zealand Medical Student Journal Te Hautaka o ngā Akongā Rongoā takes the theme of “Advocacy in Health” and runs with it. Alongside a top selection of academic articles, case studies, research abstracts and essays is an editorial from OraTaiao on the role of the health sector in Aotearoa’s climate response. Written by medical student and OraTaiao Board member Angad Chauhan and Co-convenors Summer Wright and Dr Dermot Coffey, it's available online now.
Angad Chauhan, Dermot Coffey, Summer Wright
OraTaiao at the Auckland Climate Festival
Health has had its biggest presence yet at this year's Auckland Climate Festival Te Huinga Aahuarangi o Taamaki Makaurau. Leading off on 11 September, OraTaiao associate member and Interim Head of Sustainability at Te Whatu Ora Vicktoria Blake set the scene with a “Climate Change and Health” webinar, alongside Health Promoter Sarah Macfarlane. Former OraTaiao Board member and Public Health Nurse Beck Sinclair shared the stage with Serenade Pugh and Dr Jackie Feather to kōrero on “Parenting in a Changing Climate”. And current OraTaiao Board member Corbin Whanga (Waikato Tainui, Ngāti Maniapoto) was a panellist exploring “An (In)Equitable Transition: Where To From Here?”
Running until 29 September, you can still join OraTaiao Co-convenor Summer Wright (Ngāti Maniapoto, Pākehā) at the Festival for a lunch time webinar on Friday, and watch back a recording of the panel with Corbin.
Coming soon – the 2023 OraTaiao member survey
As a group of diverse healthcare professionals, academics, trainees, students and organisations, we know that our advocacy strength depends on this broad and active membership. We'd love you to take a few minutes to fill out a short membership survey coming to your inboxes next month. We will use the information to understand our membership more and update your details in our system.
Gabrielle the teacher
The severe tropical cyclone which devastated parts of Te Ika a Māui in February contains lasting lessons for health system adaptation in the face of climate breakdown, according to Tairāwhiti-based practice manager Michelle Te Kira. Speaking to NZ Doctor Rata Aotearoa last month, Te Kira recounted the cyclone’s impact on day-to-day operations at Three Rivers Medical. “There was no power, no telecommunications, no EFTPOS and we had no cashflow,” she said. Working seven days a week, the practice team agreed to take patients from two other practices that had been forced to close. Without internet, staff went back to processing everything on paper.
Three Rivers Medical has since developed a plan for next time the region is hit by an extreme weather event. That includes some cash to cover day-to-day operations and diesel for generators, and the practice also invested in a 4WD vehicle. All the region’s practices now have an agreement with Civil Defence and Te Whatu Ora on how to respond in future.
- NZ Doctor: “Managing in an era of extremes: Tairāwhiti’s cyclone experience shows way of the future”
Push to protect tamariki and older people from heat stress
OraTaiao Co-convenor Dr Dermot Coffey has backed calls from University of Waikato climate change lecturer Luke Harrington for maximum heat standards for early childhood and aged-care facilities.
Heat deaths were often recorded under heart disease or other causes, Dermot told RNZ. But epidemiologists could look back on heat waves and work out how many people were tipped over the edge, who would otherwise have stayed alive. Most at risk are the elderly, young children, and those on common medications such as heart medicines, anti-psychotics or anti-depressants. While the number of heat deaths in Aotearoa remains low by international standards, they are increasing. According to the 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, between 2000-2004 and 2017-2021, deaths of New Zealanders over 65 from heat exposure rose by 165 percent.
Braiding Indigenous and Western knowledge for climate solutions
Two Waikato University researchers are joining an international collaboration of indigenous experts looking at the urgent challenges of climate change and food security. Associate Professor Maui Hudson (Te Whakatōhea, Ngāruahine, and Te Māhurehure) and Senior Lecturer Dr Haki Tuaupiki (Waikato, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) will work as part of the Aotearoa contingent at the Center for Braiding Indigenous Knowledges and Science (CBIKS). The centre brings together leading Indigenous scientists from Native American, First Nations, Métis, Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native, Māori and Aboriginal Australian peoples.
“This international collaboration of Indigenous leaders and experts will see us utilise Indigenous ancestral wisdom in an ethical and culturally grounded way with the best of Western science to find solutions to climate change for our communities and the world”, said Dr Tuaupiki. The United States National Science Foundation has invested over US $ 30 million (NZ $50 million) into CBIKS for five years, with ongoing funding in the offing.
Te Āo Māori News: “Māori researchers join global indigenous experts tackling climate change, food security”
Reviving global climate ambition
The United Nations has released its highly-anticipated Synthesis Report on the Technical Dialogue of the first Global Stocktake. The Global Stocktake, an integral component of the 2015 Paris Agreement due to be completed at the COP28 Climate Summit in Dubai in December, will be the first international evaluation of the world’s progress in mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts.
The Synthesis Report lays the situation bare. Emissions are still rising. There is a “rapidly narrowing window” for governments to move faster and limit temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Within a week of its appearance, a separate assessment published in the journal Science Advancesfound that six of nine planetary boundaries – climate, land systems, freshwater, biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows and novel entities – have been breached. This “first scientific health check for the entire planet” concluded that Earth is “well outside safe operating space for humanity.”
The Synthesis Report also calls for the “phasing out all unabated fossil fuels”. This position has never been explicitly adopted by the UN before, and is likely to be the central debate at COP28.
Against this backdrop, the global health community is working to revive global efforts. Most recently, OraTaiao’s international parent body – the Global Climate and Health Alliance – joined indigenous leaders and others at the 75,000-strong #MarchToEndFossilFuels outside the UN Secretary General’s Climate Ambition Summit in New York. We’d also like to give a shout out to the World Organization of National Colleges, Academies and Academic Associations of General Practitioners/Family Physicians (WONCA) – the global institution that the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners belongs to – for stepping up to support this cause.
- The Guardian: “‘A critical moment’: UN warns world will miss climate targets unless fossil fuels phased out”
- The Guardian: “Earth ‘well outside safe operating space for humanity’, scientists find”
- Global Climate and Health Alliance: “Video: Health Professionals Join NYC March to End Fossil Fuels”
- WONCA: “A Call to Secure a Just & Equitable Transition to Sustainable Energy & Safeguard Health”
#MarchToEndFossilFuels⎪Photo: Indigenous Environmental Network
Health targets methane
Ending fossil fuels is not the only focus of attention for the global health community. This month, the Global Climate and Health Alliance launched a series of sector reports titled, Mitigating Methane – A Global Health Strategy. “Short-term solutions to reduce methane emissions must go hand-in-hand with the ongoing transformation of our energy, food, and waste management systems”, said GCHA Executive Director Dr Jeni Miller. “It’s not one versus the other, it’s both-and.” A nifty two-minute animated video for a general audience, titled “Knock Out Methane”, accompanies the reports.
Of particular relevance to Aotearoa is the sector report on Mitigating Methane from Food and Agriculture.“To achieve meaningful methane emissions reductions, systemic changes must be made to the food system including agricultural production”, said Miller. “For example, many existing dietary guidelines and agricultural subsidies currently promote caloric production over nutrition and good health outcomes, and often prioritise subsidies for meat and dairy production.
“Changes to dietary guidelines that increase access to healthy, nutritional, plant-rich, and low-emission diets must be pursued, for high-income groups to improve health while reducing disproportionate emissions, and for low-income and climate-vulnerable groups to increase food security and food sovereignty.”
New Zealand is one of 150 countries which have signed up to the Global Methane Pledge since its launch at COP26, committing to collectively reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. This could avert 0.3°C of warming, and make a major difference in whether we successfully limit warming to safe levels of 1.5°C. Neither of our two main political parties, however, are currently proposing policies to drive the systemic change in food systems needed to meet this target.
The new GCHA reports are an additional resource for health professionals to catalyse informed decision-making, spur targeted mitigation efforts, and advocate for equity-based policies that safeguard both te taiao and public health.
Children gain new legal protection from climate threats
Protection from adverse effects of climate change has been affirmed as a right for all children under international law for the first time. Launched this month in Geneva, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comment No. 26 (2023) on Children’s Rights and the Environment With a Special Focus on Climate Change places new legal obligations on member States, like New Zealand.
OraTaiao contributed a thematic report to the UN Committee which issued this statement, focusing on the impact of climate change on tamariki Māori, Pacific children, disabled children and children living in low-income settings and highlighting the young voices raised in the School Strikes 4 Climate in 2019 and 2021. OraTaiao welcomes The wide-ranging verdict and we urge the New Zealand Government to now honour its obligations to act for our children.
- UN: “General comment No. 26 (2023) on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change”
- OraTaiao: “Children’s Rights in a Changing Climate – Thematic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child”
Hope springs in the Global South
Ecuador made history last month when voters approved a total ban on oil drilling in a 2.5m-acre tract in the Yasuní national park. The area is a Unesco-designated biosphere reserve and home to two non-contacted Indigenous groups. Writing in The Guardian, human rights and environmental lawyer Steven Donziger comments, “This vote is important not only for Ecuador and for the Indigenous peoples in the Yasuní, who now have hope of living in peace in perpetuity. It is also a potential model for how we can use the democratic process around the world to help slow or even stop the expansion of fossil fuels to the benefit of billions of people.
“The Yasuní vote was not the result of a business decision made in a boardroom or government office. It was the product of two decades of grassroots organizing by citizens and activists like you and me.”
A month later, Indigenous Xokleng people in Southern Brazil celebrated an equally historic court victory, ending a century-long struggle and upholding their right to occupy their ancestral lands. “We are not defenders of nature; we are nature defending itself”, said 72-year-old Xokleng leader Yoko Kopacã. The case is important because in 2019, Brazil’s supreme court decided that its ruling would set a precedent, so the verdict will have widespread implications for all land boundary disputes in Brazil, and Indigenous communities throughout the country are celebrating the ruling.
- The Guardian: “The people of Ecuador just made climate justice history. The world can follow”
- The Guardian: “‘We defended our right to the land’: Brazil’s Indigenous people hail supreme court victory”
- AP: “Indigenous people in Brazil shed tears of joy as Supreme Court enshrines their land rights”
There’s many a true word spoken in jest
As Australia bids to co-host the COP31 Climate Summit in 2026 in partnership with Pacific Island states, the Albanese Labor government has been confronted with the inconvenient fact that it’s approving and funding massive expansion of the fossil fuels which threaten its partners’ existence. If Australia’s climate change minister was embarrassed when he arrived in Suva to see a full page ad in the Fiji Times, with Pacific Elders urging the region to taihoa on the bid, he didn’t let on.
There is a funny side to all this, and Naarm/Melbourne-based satirical website The Juice Media have found it. In times like these, we could all use a laugh. CW: coarse language.
- The Juice Media: “COP31 Honest Government Ad”
This newsletter was written by Grant Brookes.
OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council