Media Release, Ora Taiao: Zero Carbon Bill is critical legislation for health, but targets are too little, too late

14 May 2019 1:19 PM | Anonymous

Zero Carbon Bill is critical legislation for health, but targets are too little, too late

Health professionals have offered a mixed response to today’s release of the Zero Carbon Bill.

They applaud its purpose to prevent global warming of more than 1.5 degrees, but say aspects of the Bill lack the necessary urgency and accountability.

“The Bill’s targets as they stand today would be too little, too late,” says Dr Rhys Jones, Coconvenor of OraTaiao: NZ Climate and Health Council.

“The Zero Carbon Bill is too weak on agricultural emissions which comprise almost half of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions. We need to see a move away from beef and dairy for both the sake of human and planetary health,” says Dr Jones.

The Zero Carbon Bill sets a target of 10 per cent reduction in biological methane emissions by 2030, and aims for a provisional reduction ranging from 24 per cent to 47 per cent by 2050.

“Our food production systems are threatening local ecosystems and contributing to climate change, while unhealthy diets are a significant contributor to major health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and cancers. But on the other hand, a rapid transition to a healthy plant-based food system could go a long way to addressing major health issues including obesity, heart disease and protecting our drinking water.”

Dr Jones was speaking from the 2nd Sustainable Healthcare Forum in Wellington today where leaders from a range of sectors gathered to share ideas about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the health sector. Forum participants have called on the Government to set greenhouse gas emission targets for District Health Boards.

“Health professionals are extremely concerned about the impacts of climate change on the health of people and communities. At the same time, we are excited about the health opportunities that well-designed climate action can bring,” says Dr Jones.

“A strong Zero Carbon Bill that emphasises fairness and upholds Te Tiriti o Waitangi is critical for a healthy future for New Zealanders.”

ENDS

Media Spokesperson: Dr Rhys Jones, 021 411 743

Dr Rhys Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) (rg.jones@auckland.ac.nz) is a Public Health Physician and Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, and Co-convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council.

OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate & Health Council is a health professional organisation urgently focusing on the health threats of climate change and the health opportunities of climate action. See: www.orataiao.org.nz

Notes to editors:

About Climate Change and Health

Information is available in the following paper from the 2014 NZ Medical Journal: ‘Health and equity impacts of climate change in Aotearoa-New Zealand, and health gains from climate action’. http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/read-the-journal/all-issues/2010-2019/2014/vol-127-no-1406/6366

Health threats from climate changes include: worsening illness and injury from heat and other extreme weather, changing patterns of infection including food poisoning, loss of seafood and farming livelihoods, food price rises and mass migration from the Pacific. Those on low incomes, Māori, Pacific people, children and older people will be hit first and hardest, but nobody will be immune to the widespread health and social threats of unchecked climate change. Direct and indirect climate change impacts are already being seen here from warming oceans and sea level rise.

Health opportunities from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, easing pressure on health budgets include: rapidly phasing out coal; switching from car trips to more walking, cycling and public transport; healthier diets lower in red meat and dairy; and energy efficient, warm homes will all cut emissions while also reducing the diseases that kill New Zealanders most and put our children in hospital – cancer, heart disease, lung diseases and car crash injuries.

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Letter to the Listener 28 July 2017 in response to Fever Pitch (Listener 21 July 2017)

Catherine Woulfe’s thorough investigation of rheumatic fever brings to the surface a range of important questions not only about this cruel disease, but also wider issues about health policy. The Government’s bold initiative to reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever as one of its 'Better Public Service' targets in 2012 certainly raised awareness of rheumatic fever for the general public as well as communities and families directly affected. But even when medical science and the public have a clearer understanding of the immediate causes of rheumatic fever, interventions like the $65m ‘sore throats matter’ still won’t stop the epidemic. 

Ramona Tiatia’s blunt description of the experience of affected families not only painted a picture of the impact on affected families and communities, it also highlighted the invidious choices our health funders face.  How much should we prioritise health spending between response to the urgent need of young people whose lives and potential can be devastated by the disease versus the expense of addressing the economic and social factors that underlie the reasons we have this epidemic at all?   

As several of the clinicians interviewed pointed out, it’s only when the poverty and over-crowded housing issues are addressed that we will make a real difference.

Rheumatic fever illustrates the contradictions in our health system identified in the recent American Commonwealth Fund report. Of the 11 countries the Fund monitors, the work our health professionals do is ranked among the highest. But our overall performance as a health system falls to the middle ranking because of our poor performance on access and equity. The Fund also notes that our per capita expenditure is among the cheapest. 

Failure to invest in real prevention - that is, poverty, housing, good nutrition etc. - will continue to drive conditions like rheumatic fever, whether the immediate cause is strep throat or skin sores, until we invest upstream.

Why not spend more on these conditions - the economic and social determinants of health? 

We all pay in the long run - the young people whose misery we tolerate and whose potential remains unfulfilled, the families whose sacrifices are unrewarded, and the taxpayer who picks up the tab.

Ngā mihi,
Warren Lindberg

CE Public Health Association of New Zealand

                                            

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