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Trade deal threatens health if climate change not addressed

Trade treaty threatens health if climate change not addressed: University of Otago expert

A University of Otago health expert is calling for an independent assessment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact’s potential impacts on climate change and health.

Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Otago’s Christchurch School of Medicine, Dr Erik Monasterio, is concerned about the potential consequences of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), an economic treaty, originally called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Dr Monasterio argues the CPTPP, which is set to be signed by 11 countries in Chile today, is geared fundamentally towards the interests of transnational corporations and foreign investors at the expense of concerns about human and environmental health.

Dr Monasterio, a consultant in forensic psychiatry, is one of the authors in an editorial Climate change, human health and the CPTPP in the latest issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal, released today, which calls for an independent assessment of parts of the treaty.

An assessment of the CPTPP’s anticipated impacts on climate disruption, and on mitigation strategies, should be undertaken and released for public discussion before the treaty is ratified, the editorial states.

It says the Labour-led Government has launched into its first term with bold plans to align New Zealand’s economy with priorities dictated by the urgency of the climate crisis, yet its ambitions would be undermined by signing the treaty.

“Ironically, the Government’s ambition in this regard would be seriously undercut by signing a treaty that underwrites the economic status quo and creates strong legal headwinds for essential regulatory action.”

Dr Monasterio is backed by a team of co-authors in the editorial – Wellington solicitor Oliver Hailes, Public health physician and University of Auckland Senior Lecturer Dr Rhys Jones, University of Auckland academic psychiatrist Associate Professor David Menkes and Canterbury DHB consultant clinical microbiologist, Dr Joshua Freeman.

They say there is a considerable body of scientific evidence on the harmful impacts of climate change on health. So much so, that climate change has been identified as the most serious threat to global public health this century.

Direct impacts include death, illness and injury due to heat waves and extreme weather events. While powerful indirect impacts are mediated by a complex interaction of social, environmental and economic factors including shifting patterns of infectious disease, air pollution, freshwater contamination, impacts on the environment from sea level rise, forced migration, economic collapse, conflict over scare resources and increasing food insecurity.

In New Zealand, these adverse health events are most likely to impact on those already suffering: children, the elderly, low-income, Māori and Pacific populations, the editorial states.

Dr Monasterio says benefits can be achieved for New Zealanders’ health through a range of initiatives from reducing emissions in sectors such as transport, housing, energy and agriculture.

But, under the proposed CPTPP it will be increasingly difficult for the Government to make bold changes in social and economic policy.

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