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NZ’s health sector asks Government for urgent climate action

Health workers delivered a strong message to the Coalition Government at the National Forum on Sustainable Healthcare today. They are asking for urgent policy to ensure that District Health Boards (DHBs) and the wider health sector are held accountable for their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and environmental footprint.

An open letter to the Ministers of Health and Climate Change was presented. Signed by over 900 New Zealand (NZ) healthcare workers wanting change, the message to the Government is that the health sector is ready to lead NZ to a sustainable and healthy future.

The letter was presented to Hon Julie Anne Genter, Associate Minister of Health with the portfolio for climate change and health, asking for:

1. The Ministry of Health to set GHG emissions reduction targets for DHBs in line with commitments under the Paris Agreement.

2. The Ministry of Health to mandate all DHBs to measure, manage, and reduce their GHG emissions in accordance with the ISO 14064 standard.

3. DHBs to report progress towards GHG emissions reduction to the Ministry of Health annually.

“Health systems in developed countries have very large environmental and climate footprints,” says Dr David Galler, an Intensive Care Specialist and member of the Sustainable Health Sector National Network (SHSNN). Estimates show health systems produce 3-10% of a country’s total GHGs.

SHSNN members say a Sustainability Manager in every DHB is necessary, and the establishment of a national unit is needed for overall coordination. The National Health System (NHS) in England established a Sustainable Development Unit in 2008, funded by and accountable to the NHS.

Benefits of a sustainable health sector are significant and include cost savings, quality improvements, and boosting community wellbeing. For example, Counties Manukau DHB have reduced GHG emissions by over 20% since 2012 and saved more than $500,000 as a direct result.

“This Government is signalling that the health sector needs to change, but we need higher expectations and accountability. We still have hospitals that are burning coal as an energy source,” says Dr Galler.

“The Government needs to provide the budget and support for DHBs to change how they operate for the long-term good of the sector and people’s health”

The National Forum looked at green hospital and healthcare buildings, sustainable supply chains, and the implications of the upcoming Zero Carbon Bill for the health sector. It also discussed how health sector environmental sustainability can add health and social value to local communities.

Co-hosted by OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council and the SHSNN, the Forum was opened by the Director-General of Health, followed by international and NZ experts on sustainability and healthcare.

Dr Rhys Jones, co-convenor of OraTaiao, says the Forum has laid down the challenge by showing that NZ’s health sector can lead environmental sustainability and create the conditions for all New Zealanders to be healthy.

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