Summer 2023 Newsletter Pānui

Summer 2023 Newsletter Pānui

Kia ora --

As we near the end of another pivotal year for climate action in Aotearoa, it's a good time to look back on 2023 and plan for the year to come. 

The first ‘health COP’ came and went, with some highs and lows. The adoption of a declaration on climate and health was a first, and will be useful for OraTaiao and other climate justice advocates in Aotearoa. Some traction for fossil fuel phase out has been made, though there is a long potholed road ahead. 

The new coalition government is already hurling multiple challenges in the face of climate and health equity. 

OraTaiao is pivoting our energies towards the flaxroots and building long term relationships with our membership, the wider health and climate advocacy community and within local and national government.

We deeply appreciate the ongoing support from our members. Thank you for contributing to OraTaiao throughout the year and fueling our efforts. We look forward to seeing you for an energetic year in climate advocacy in 2024.

Kia pai tō Kirihimete me te tau hou Pākehā. 

Nāku noa, nā

Dermot & 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

1. Update on OraTaiao activities

Strong turnout for OraTaiao AGM 
A determination to forge ahead for a healthy climate, healthy people was shared by the 37 members of OraTaiao who attended our AGM on 30 November. Guest speaker Rob Campbell reflected on what he learnt from his time as Chair of Te Whatu Ora and shared a vision of a future health system which can achieve Pae Ora. He stayed for an in-depth Q&A, and has kindly allowed us to share a recording of this kōrero.

The AGM thanked departing members of the Executive Board – Bruce Tsai, Tess Luff, Sylvia Purdie and Ingrid Mulder – and welcomed newly-elected Board member Isabella Lenihan-Ikin. Isabella (she/her) is a Rhodes Scholar currently studying at the University of Oxford. Her PhD research looks at the occupational health impacts of climate change in Aotearoa, through a just transition lens. Prior to this, she was a union organiser and campaigner, which included working as a political organiser at NZEI Te Riu Roa and serving as the National President of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations. Isabella also holds a Masters of Science from the University of Oxford, as well as a Bachelor of Science (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws from Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. 

Looking back over the past year, a report from Co-convenors Dr Dermot Coffey and Summer Wright (Ngāti Maniapoto) highlighted the scale of work undertaken by OraTaiao, while Treasurer Peter Bernhardt provided assurance of robust financial governance in delivering against our organisational purposes. 

Rob Campbell – Guest speaker at OraTaiao AGM 2023


Meeting with the Climate Change Commission
OraTaiao Executive Board members met with He Pou a Rangi Climate Change Commission on 14 December, alongside our allies in the New Zealand Climate Action Network. 

The Commission confirmed at the meeting that there is no change to their mandate or work programme under the new government. They have been directed by Parliament to do a job, and that's what they are sticking to. 

Discussion covered the development of the Commission's final advice to inform the Government’s second Emissions Reduction Plan, which was released last week. In our submission on the draft advice back in April, OraTaiao commended the Commission for offering better recognition of the health co-benefits of climate action. Maximising health co-benefits from well-designed climate action centred on human health, we said, could give a shared and unifying focus for building greater government and public support within Aotearoa.

We were concerned, however, that even before the changes announced by the new government, New Zealand was not on track to meet its 2026-2030 emissions budget. Despite their support for our domestic and international climate commitments, many of the new government’s policy reversals leave an even bigger gap to be closed.

The meeting also discussed the Commission's upcoming consultation, due to open in April 2024, on the draft advice for the emissions budget for 2031-2035. Also, advice needs to be given by the end of 2024 on how the government should tackle its international shipping and aviation activity. 

OraTaiao asked about progress on establishing a health advisory group. Unfortunately, this work has not made much headway due to changes in personnel at the Commission, but we received a commitment and have already made definite plans to restart this work early in the new year. 

1. National happenings

Preventing health and climate vandalism 
"When it came to COVID, we completely blew out what the value of a life was, completely, I’ve never seen such a high value on life”, says ACT health spokesperson Brooke van Velden. 

Drastically reducing the number of shops that could sell tobacco products, denicotising those products and introducing a range of restrictions would significantly reduce revenue to the Crown”, says National Party Finance Minister Nicola Willis. “Both NZ First and the ACT Party were insistent that they wanted those regulations reversed, and we’ve agreed to that.” 

We are not going to meet the 2030 dreamy fairytale aspirational figures that will be freeing ourselves of fossil fuels as generating energy”, says Associate Energy Minister Shane Jones. “We are going to extract the dividend from Mother Nature's legacy on the DoC estate and those areas previously known as Stewardship land. There'll be a fast track for mining, fast track for energy, that's the thing coming in your direction.”

We must be under no illusions. When government MPs make off-the-cuff remarks that human life has been valued too highly, that revenue to the Crown is more important than people’s health or that they intend to pursue extractivism and drill for fossil fuels, we should take them at their word. However the Prime Minister tries to dress it up after the fact, these statements are what underlies the government’s 100-day plan, which has been accurately described as “public health vandalism” and “climate vandalism.”

We are not going to dwell on these actions of the government. As outlined in our November Newsletter, OraTaiao’s strategic approach in the new political environment – illustrated in the newsletter items below – will focus more on connecting with our members and with flaxroots climate campaigners, building strong relationships with opposition parties, networking with health professional organisations and advocacy at the local government level. 

In grounding ourselves for the work to come, we renew our Joint Call for Action, endorsed in 2018 by 21 professional bodies. Of particular relevance in the present moment: 

We recognise that:

  • Levels of health risk posed by climate change vary according to age, ethnicity, geographic location, and socioeconomic status.
  • Those at highest health risk from climate change in New Zealand include Māori, Pacific peoples, children, elderly and low income people.

As health professional organisations we call for:

  • Measures that prioritise and protect groups likely to be worst affected - Māori, Pacific peoples, children, elderly, and low income people.”

We encourage our members to join us in this vandalism prevention work.

Back to the streets
Thousands of people took to roads around the country to mark the opening of the 54th Parliament, in a National Māori Day of Action called by Te Pāti Māori. 

The coalition government has targeted the wellbeing of Māori directly with pledges to dismantle Te Aka Whai Ora, restrict the use of Te Reo Māori in the public service, remove co-governance, restore referenda for Māori wards in local government and introduce a Treaty Principles Bill based on Act Party policy. A swathe of other changes will also have disproportionate impact on Māori, from scrapping Fair Pay Agreements and repealing smokefree legislation to increasing prison capacity.

OraTaiao's Joint Call For Action declares that a just transition to healthy people living in a healthy climate requires measures that prioritise and protect Māori. We are particularly concerned by government plans to review the Māori and Pacific Admission Scheme (Mapas) for medical schools. Members of OraTaiao took part in the National Māori Day of Action and as an organisation we applaud their stand. 

Te Pāti Māori Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the National Māori Day of Action was a sign of what's to come over the next three years. Auckland paediatric doctor Simone Watkins has a message for the government, too. “My message to Christopher Luxon and David Seymour: programmes such as Mapas are a success; touch them at your – our – peril.”

A climate of protest
Save the date. School Strike 4 Climate NZ has announced that student-led protests will be returning to the streets of Aotearoa after the Easter break next year. As more climate and health campaigners direct their energies towards flaxroots activism in the face of a hostile government, the SS4C announcement could generate a huge response. OraTaiao will be out in support, on 5 April 2024. 

School Strike 4 Climate 2024

Supporting an inquiry into Māori health outcomes

OraTaiaio is supporting the idea of a Select Committee Inquiry into Māori health inequalities and life expectancy. This is part of our approach to strengthening relationships with Opposition Parties and individual MPs, including Health Committee member Hūhana Lyndon MP who has proposed the inquiry. It is hoped that momentum can build for an inquiry to shine a light on the needs for equitable provision of health services for Māori and provide a solid basis for ultimately improving Māori health outcomes.

Health professionals seek answers on Māori health
OraTaiao has signed onto a collective letter from healthcare workers to Health Minister Dr Shane Reti, expressing concern regarding the disestablishment of Te Aka Whai Ora and asking for clarity on the government’s specific plans to address Māori health inequities. The letter has been drafted with input from Māori health professionals and professional advocacy groups, and seeks the following information:

“• Given the coalition agreement to abolish Te Aka Whai Ora, we would like to hear how the coalition plans to ensure that the groundwork and initiatives developed by Te Aka Whai Ora towards addressing inequities will continue.

  • We request specific information on initiatives, policies and programs the coalition will implement to continue the positive momentum in improving health outcomes for Māori communities outlined by Pae Tū: Hauora Māori Strategy and Whakamaua: Māori Health Action Plan.
  • Te Aka Whai Ora was providing a leadership role. We seek specific information on what political and medical leadership will look like moving forward.
  • We request information on which performance indicators the government will be targeting, what the reporting framework will look like in the absence of Te Aka Whai Ora, and where accountability will lie for system performance in Māori health.
  • We seek specifics on a Māori Workforce Plan for the health sector in the absence of Te Aka Whai Ora to match community needs.”

Our engagement with this collective letter reflects our new strategic focus of networking more closely with health professional organisations. We encourage all OraTaiao members who are willing to add their name publicly to email the principal organiser, Te Toka Tumai Emergency Medicine Specialist Dr Elspeth Frascator. Please include your name and credentials, including Practising Certificate number, so she can verify signatures.

Greening the hospital staff commute
Engagement at the local government level is a priority for OraTaiao, so when OraTaiao Coordinator Grant Brookes got an invitation to take part in a focus group run by Te Pane Matua Taiao Greater Wellington Regional Council this month, he leapt at the chance. 

The Council, in partnership with Te Whatu Ora Capital Coast Hutt Valley, is rolling out a Travel Action Plan to reduce reliance on single occupancy car commuting for staff who work at Wellington Hospital. Te Whatu Ora employees have previously taken advantage of subsidies for half-price e-bikes. The Travel Action Plan includes newly-launched express bus routes with early morning services for shift workers. The focus group explored factors which influence travel choices, ahead of the launch next year of a hospital staff rideshare app. 

3. International news

COP28 launches a ‘canoe full of holes’
A myriad of hot takes and in-depth analyses have flowed in the wake of the 28th UN Climate Summit which wrapped up in Dubai last week. Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the oil company CEO who presided over the Summit, hailed the outcomeagreed by the assembled world leaders as an “historic achievement” that will “secure a better future for our people and our planet.” Yet he declared “consensus” on the agreement while representatives of 39 countries – a fifth of the total – were out of the room, still deciding on their position. 

Those 39 countries were the Alliance of Small Island States (AoSIS) most vulnerable to climate change, including 15 nations of the Pacific. A commitment to climate justice means standing with the peoples of these nations. “This process has failed us,” said Samoa lead negotiator and AoSIS representative, Anne Rasmussen. 

Marshall Islands' head of delegation John Silk added, “the fact that the decision was gavelled without a major group in the room, which represents one of the most vulnerable groups in the world, is unacceptable. I came here from my home in the islands to work with you all to solve the greatest challenge of our generation. I came here to build a canoe together for my country. Instead we have built a canoe with a weak and leaky hull, full of holes.”

OraTaiao was represented at COP28 through the New Zealand Climate Action Network and the Global Climate and Health Alliance. GCHA Policy Lead Jess Beagley also highlighted the holes in the agreement. “While the COP28 final text clearly signals the impending end of the fossil fuel era, naming the need to end dependence on fossil fuels for the first time in a 30 year process”, she said, “it leaves gaping and dangerous loopholes such as carbon capture and storage, ‘transitional fuels’ like fossil gas, and nuclear power, and does not clearly commit to a full, fair or funded fossil fuel phase out.

COP28 did, however, adopt a declaration on climate and health – a first for a UN climate summit. This declaration has so far been endorsed by 142 countries – including New Zealand. OraTaiao will be making use of this declaration in our future submissions to government. 

Counting down our opportunities for a healthy climate
November saw the release of the 2023 Lancet Countdown on health and climate change. Published annually, the report monitors the evolving impacts of climate change on health across 47 indicators, as well as the health opportunities of climate action. A short video for general audiences accompanies the report. 

One of the starkest findings is that heat-related deaths of people aged 65 and over have risen by 85 percent since the 1990s. Older people and infants now are exposed to twice as many heat-wave days annually as they were between 1986 and 2005. 

The Lancet Countdown breaks down its findings by country and region. For Oceania, the report highlights that high levels of red meat consumption mean that emissions per person in 2020 were 4.2 times higher than emissions per person in Small Island Developing States, the region with the lowest emissions from red meat consumption. 

Shifting towards more affordable and accessible plant-based diets can reduce these emissions, simultaneously delivering substantial health benefits”, it says. “This is particularly true for populations in North America, Europe, and Oceania, which have the highest mortality from excess consumption of red and processed meat, and from insufficient consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.” 

The report also documents how climate change is exacerbating inequities, both within and between regions. For instance, heat exposure limits labour productivity and undermines livelihoods. As a result, Africa also saw relative potential income loss in 2022 equivalent to 4.1% of its GDP. 

For the first time, this year’s Lancet Countdown includes future projections. If the global average temperature rises by 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels, it says, heat-related deaths will increase by 370 percent by the middle of the century. 

But the report also points out that efforts to reduce fossil fuel pollution have already delivered health benefits. Deaths from air pollution are down by 15 percent since 2005, mostly a result of less coal-related pollution in the atmosphere. A global transition to low-carbon diets could reduce agricultural emissions by 57 percent and save 12 million lives every year. The potential health and equity gains from well-designed climate action are enormous. 

2023 Lancet Countdown Report


Climate justice for Palestine
Advocating for climate justice fundamentally comes from a place of caring about people and their human rights. That means speaking up when people suffer, are forced to flee their homes or are killed – regardless of the cause. It is the same reason why we have always held strikes in solidarity with marginalised groups – including those in Sápmi, Kurdistan, Ukraine and many other places – and their struggles for justice against imperialism and oppression. Our solidarity with Palestine is no different.”

This statement from Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future Sweden mirrors the understanding of OraTaiao. We were proud to be invited to sign on to a joint letter to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Manatū Aorere Ministry of Foreign Affairs urging them to support the UN General Assembly resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. 

4. Good news, interesting links, books

Congratulations to Kera Sherwood-O’Regan
Good news is a bit hard to come by at the moment, but we are pleased to be able to share some. OraTaiao member Kera Sherwood-O’Regan (Kāi Tahu) has been named in the BBC's “100 Women of 2023” list. She has been recognised as one of 28 global “climate pioneers”, for her work on indigenous climate justice and social change, bringing practices grounded in her whenua and tūpuna into climate conversations. 

In a feature interview with RNZ, Kera talked about how colonisation is a driver of climate change. It is an ongoing process and it requires a huge amount of carbon to maintain that process. Colonisation brought over thousands of people to the other side of the world, and it is maintained through violence. Warfare is an extremely carbon-intensive process, she said, which is also why issues like the genocide in Gaza are relevant to climate justice. Also when you think about it, colonisation is about cutting down trees, imposing different food systems that are out of step with this whenua and imposing capitalism. 

If we want solutions to climate change, said Kera, we need systemic change. Ngā mihi nui ki a ia. 

This newsletter was written by Grant Brookes.

OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council

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