Climate change: Calls for public health expert to be appointed to commission

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A public health expert should be appointed to the Climate Change Commission, a number of health organisations say.

It comes as OraTaiao: NZ Climate and Health Council says the commission is preparing “essential” advice for the Government on how the country can reduce emissions – without looking at health evidence.

The 12 health organisations, including the NZ Medical Association (NZMA) and Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), have written a letter to Climate Change Minister James Shaw requesting an urgent appointment to the commission.

In the letter, the groups said there is increasing evidence of climate change’s health impacts internationally, but a better understanding of the risk and effects it has on health in New Zealand is needed.

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“Aotearoa currently has no climate and health action plan,” the letter said.

Students gather in Auckland's Aotea Square to protest against inaction against climate change. (File photo)

Chris McKeen/Stuff

Students gather in Auckland’s Aotea Square to protest against inaction against climate change. (File photo)

“Developing and implementing such an action plan that adopts an integrated cross-sectoral approach is a critical step towards ensuring the co-benefits of climate and health action are realised.”

RACP president Dr George Laking said health impacts of climate change will be “varied and unrelenting”.

“With public health expertise at the heart of climate change advice to government, health equity is much more likely to be the norm for all.

“This means healthy housing, good work and whānau wellbeing can be outcomes of mitigation actions to support our people, our built environment and our natural environment.”

NZMA chairwoman Dr Kate Baddock said tackling climate change is an opportunity to address current imbalances in health and improve health outcomes.

While being more active and using public transport, eating less red meat and improving housing energy efficiency would reduce greenhouse gases, Baddock said the measures would also reduce type 2 diabetes, heart disease, traffic accidents, cancer and other diseases.

New Zealand Medical Association chairwoman Kate Baddock.

SUPPLIED

New Zealand Medical Association chairwoman Kate Baddock.

“To ensure that these health gains are maximised, we need expertise in public health and health equity when formulating climate policies.”

Climate Minister James Shaw said OraTaiao is correct in saying climate change could have a significant impact on public health, and it was right to point out that public health considerations need to be part of what the Government does to reduce emissions.

“I do raise public health issues with the Climate Change Commission on a regular basis, but there are no plans at this stage to appoint new members to the Climate Change Commission,’ Shaw said.

“However the commission can, if it chooses, establish advisory groups to cover particular areas of interest.”

Climate Change Minister James Shaw.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Climate Change Minister James Shaw.

Shaw said the commission’s draft advice does include health benefits of action on climate change including better air quality, warmer and drier homes and more active, local travel.

“We do acknowledge that the commission’s draft advice is recommending that New Zealand improve the evidence base and approach for factoring in co-benefits into climate policy, including to health.

“I hope OraTaiao and its members can be part of this work and help us to build the necessary evidence base.”

The Climate Change Commission said questions were best directed to Shaw.

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