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Blazing Heat a Billboard for Climate Health Risk Say Doctors

Thursday 10 January 2013

Blazing Heat a Billboard for Climate Health Risk Say NZ Doctors

OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council see record temperatures and bushfires in Australia along with blistering temperatures in New Zealand as a wake-up call on climate health risks.

Last week Tasmania experienced its peak temperature since records began and bushfires swept across the island. “Our thoughts are with our neighbouring Australians as they battle through the extreme heat and related bushfires’” says Dr George Laking of The Council. The current heat wave has been described as ‘catastrophic’ and Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pointed the finger at global warming.

Closer to home temperatures in the South of New Zealand hit the mid-30’s last week. As expatriate New Zealand scientist Kevin Trenberth has pointed out, global warming means that all weather events are likely to be increasingly extreme.

“Climate scientists have been telling us for years that one of the major health impacts from climate change in Australasia is likely to be an increase in heat related deaths” says Dr Laking. “During heat waves there is an increase in classical heat illnesses (heat stroke, heat exhaustion) and related conditions – such as dehydration and kidney disease. The elderly and people with chronic medical conditions are particularly at risk” says Dr Laking.

These events come in the wake of a year of extreme weather around the world and a disappointing round of international climate negotiations in Qatar last month. “Governments aren’t going to take leadership on climate change unless the public demands it” says Dr Laking. “It is up to us all to take action - and the good news is there are things we can do - like making more use of bikes, buses and walking in our day to day transport” adds Dr Laking. “These blazing heat conditions are a call to climate action for all of us”.


OraTaiao: The NZ Climate & Health Council are senior doctors and other health professionals concerned with climate change as a serious public health threat.

Links to reports and commentary
IPCC 2007. Chapter 11: Australia and New Zealand. In: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof JP, van der Linden PJ, Hanson CE (eds)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 2007. .
Nation on alert as bushfires spread.
Australian Government Sentinel Bushfire Monitoring System.
Australia scorching, Gillard blames climate change.
Extreme weather to continue in NZ.
Kovats RS, Ebi KL. Heatwaves and public health in Europe. European Journal of Public Health 2006; 16(6): 592-99.
Health Research Council Media Release, 5 Dec 2012. Nor’wester could affect health of Cantabrians in the future.
About climate and health
Climate change is widely recognised by world health authorities and leading medical journals to be the biggest global health threat of the 21st century and this is well-accepted by New Zealand medical professional bodies. Major threats—both direct and indirect—to global health from climate change will occur through water and food insecurity, threats to shelter and human settlements, population displacement and migration, extreme climatic events, changing patterns of disease, risks to security (e.g. war), and loss of economic potential.

Conversely, addressing climate change is an opportunity to improve population health and reduce inequities. In New Zealand, well designed policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can bring about substantial health co-benefits including reductions in heart disease, cancer, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, respiratory disease, and motor vehicle injuries, and improvements in mental health. These substantial health gains are possible through strategies such as transport infrastructure redesign to encourage active travel, healthy eating (including reduced red meat and animal fat consumption), and improving home insulation.

Ora Taiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council Key Messages
• Climate change is a real and urgent threat to the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.
• New Zealand must be an active partner in global cooperation to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions to 350ppm CO2equivalents by:
o rapidly halving our own emissions by 2020;
o paying our fair share of international investment in a global future.

• New Zealand can, and must, respond to climate change in ways that improve population health, accord with Te Tiriti o Waitangi, create a more equitable, just and resilient society, and promote a healthier economy within ecological resource limits.
1. Costello A, Abbas M, Allen A, et al. Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. Lancet 2009,373:1693–1733.
2. Jay M, Marmot MG. Health and climate change. Lancet. 2009;374:961-2. (
3. Chan M. Climate change and health: preparing for unprecedented challenges. The 2007 David E. Barmes Global Health Lecture, Bethesda, Maryland, USA, 10 December 2007. (World Health Organization, Director-General speeches 2006-12.)
4. World Health Organisation and World Meterological Association. Atlas of Health and Climate. Geneva, Switzerland, 2012. .
5. IPCC 2007. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof JP, van der Linden PJ, Hanson CE (eds)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 2007. .
6. World Medical Association. WMA Declaration of Delhi on Health and Climate Change. Adopted by the 60th WMA General Assembly, New Delhi, India, October 2009.
7. Metcalfe S, Woodward A, Macmillan A, Baker M, Howden-Chapman P, et al; New Zealand Climate and Health. Why New Zealand must rapidly halve its greenhouse gas emissions [Special Article]. N Z Med J. 2009 Oct 9;122(1304):72-95.
8. Montgomery H. Climate change: the health consequences of inactivity [editorial]. NZ Med J. 2009 Oct 9;122(1304):6-8.
9. Joint letter 2009 from The Royal College of Physicians and 17 other professional bodies, published simultaneously in The Lancet and the BMJ. Lancet. 2009;374:973; BMJ. 2009;339:b3672.
10. New Zealand Medical Association. NZMA Position Statement on Health and Climate Change. Wellington: NZMA, 2010.
11. New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine. Climate change: New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine policy statement. Wellington: New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine (NZCPHM), 2012.

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