Urgent action needed to stop global temperatures rising more than 1.5°C

8 October 2018

Health professionals are intensifying calls for urgent emissions reduction in response to a report released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The special report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, is the most comprehensive scientific assessment ever made of climate change. The report says 1.5°C is possible, but rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society are now needed. “The report makes it very clear that we must act urgently to keep global warming under 1.5°C for the sake of our health,” says Dr Alex Macmillan, Co-convenor of OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council.

“The report says that at 1.5°C, there are still serious health consequences. But the lower we can keep global warming, the better for our health. Conversely, the longer we delay acting, the harder it will be to protect health.”

To stabilise global warming to 1.5 degrees, over the next decade global carbon must reduce to around half of 2010 levels – and, significantly for NZ’s food production resilience, global methane must be cut to less than two-thirds of 2010 levels by 2050. 

This report comes at a critical stage of development of New Zealand’s proposed Zero Carbon Act, where there was overwhelming public support for net zero emissions for all climate-damaging gases. “It highlights the need for the Act to be significantly strengthened to ensure it is consistent with the science, with an earlier than 2050 zero emissions target and agriculture playing a crucial role in cutting its emissions” says Dr Macmillan.

“Decades of inaction mean we must now act with unprecedented urgency if we are to avoid major adverse impacts on health and wellbeing. We need to stop tinkering at the edges and start playing our part in averting the global climate crisis.”

“In doing this we must ensure a just transition for vulnerable communities within Aotearoa, including farming communities. Treaty partnerships are fundamental at every step of our net zero emissions journey. This is about all of us working together for economic resilience, fairness, justice, and better health for everyone.”

“The good news is that tackling climate change presents huge opportunities to improve health and create a fairer society. Energy efficient homes can be warmer, drier and more affordable; low carbon transport can make it easy to be more active and clear the air; and shifting towards a plant-based food system can reduce cancer and address our freshwater crisis. The government’s Zero Carbon Act will be a crucial piece of legislation for health in New Zealand,” says Dr Macmillan. “For our health’s sake, we must also ensure co-ordinated action across all sectors to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.”


Media Spokesperson:
Dr Alex Macmillan, Mob. 021 322 625

Dr Alex Macmillan ([email protected]) is a Public Health Physician and Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago and Co-Convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council.

News of the IPCC Special Report Global Warming of 1.5°C


Further international health quotes in response to the IPCC report

“With every degree of global warming, the health and lives of millions of more people are being put further at risk” concludes the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C published on 8 October 2018 – the most comprehensive assessment of climate change science to date.

There are three important health messages in the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C:

1. The greater the warming, the greater the risks to health overall.

  • There is a strong public health case for limiting warming to the greatest extent possible.
  • “The report makes clear that the lower the warming, the safer for health. As we pass 1.5C, 2C, or even higher, the risks to health multiply,” adds World Health Organization’s Climate and Health Lead, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, and co-author of the 1.5 Health Report, summarising the IPCC report’s health findings.

2. There can be important health gains from the actions that will be necessary to limit warming.

  • The public health benefits of stringent mitigation pathways in line with warming of 1.5°C can be sizeable and potentially larger than the initial mitigation costs​.
  • “Virtually all the strategies to limit climate change would improve human health,” states Andrew Shindell, an IPCC Special Report Coordinating Lead Author.
  • “Climate action is all about opportunities for health: decarbonising our lives is entirely possible and will make this world a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable place. Ensuring a limit of 1.5 degree Celsius instead of 2 would mean less health-threatening extreme weather events, chronically ill people, less hospital admissions, less deaths and less financial burden on our societies.” says Anne Stauffer, Director for Strategy and Campaigns at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).
  • Mitigation efforts that focus on transforming the food and agriculture system can have positive health co-benefits by promoting healthier and more sustainable diets: limiting the demand for GHG-intensive foods - including healthy diets with low animal-calorie shares and low food waste - is a key factor in reducing emissions from agriculture and could be achieved through shifts to healthier and more sustainable diets.
  • While climate change is very likely to decrease agricultural yield, the consequences could be reduced substantially at 1.5°C with appropriate investment and adaptation.

3. The speed of reducing emissions will affect the level of adaptation ambition required.

  • The longer it takes to reduce emissions, the greater the adaptation needed to protect population health.
  • “Climate change is projected to be a poverty multiplier,and health risks that come with global warming are unevenly distributed.” This multiplier makes poor people poorer and increases total number of people in poverty.
  • The IPCC report finds that although risks to human health and food production systems will be lower at 1.5°C than at 2°C of warming, warming of 1.5°C is not considered ‘safe’ for most nations and communities.
  • At 2°C warming, there is a potential for significant population displacement concentrated in the tropics. Tropical populations may have to move at distances greater than 1000 km if global mean temperature rises by 2 °C from the period of 2011–2030 to the end of the century.

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