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Climate Change Major Public Health Threat

MEDIA RELEASE 14 March 2002 For immediate release


Government inaction on climate change could present a major threat to public health, warns the Pacific Institute of Resource Management (PIRM).

Rates of food poisoning associated with warmer weather could rise by an additional 179,000 cases per year by 2050. Water-borne infections could increase as a result of heavy rainfall events and tropical diseases such as dengue fever besides affecting the North Island could spread as far south as Dunedin. By 2100, most coastal areas of the South Island even south of Dunedin could be within the climatic tolerance limits of the mosquito which carries the disease.

Institute spokesperson, Kay Weir, says research carried out by the Wellington School of Medicine and the International Global Change Institute in Waikato indicates the impacts of climate change on human health will be significant. In addition to the substantial risk of diseases like malaria and dengue fever, never before present in New Zealand, health and nutrition could be adversely affected by the impacts of extreme weather events on agricultural production and water availability. "The health bill for New Zealand if global warming emissions are not heavily reduced is likely be enormous." The research findings are reported in an article in the March 2002 edition of Pacific Ecologist, published by PIRM.*

"Climate change should be considered a matter of both national and global security, just as much as terrorism," Weir says.

"The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that global temperatures are rising faster and higher than experts feared, with temperatures expected to rise by between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees centigrade by the end of this century. A change in temperature even by a degree or two is not a trivial matter as nature usually takes thousands of years to being that about."

Weir says the Institute is concerned pressure from businesses opposed to ratification of the Kyoto Protocol may result in the New Zealand Government backtracking on its commitments to effectively reduce global-warming emissions. The Institute strongly supports ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and is urging the government to introduce a strong package of measures to reduce New Zealand's growing greenhouse gas emissions. "Failure to do so will expose New Zealand and New Zealanders to enormous risks", she says.

The Government is due to announce its package of policy measures on climate change later this month.


For more information, contact: Kay Weir, Pacific Institute of Resource Management Phone (04) 939 4553 or email Fax 04. 9394551

The March 2002 edition of Pacific Ecologist of 76 pages focuses exclusively on climate change. It includes articles by ecologists Edward Goldsmith, Sharon Beder, and Peter Bunyard and NIWA scientists Jim Salinger, Martin Manning, David Wratt and Penehuro Fatu Lefale (NIWA - National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research).

*The authors of the health effects article are Alistair Woodward, Simon Hales (Wellington School of Medicine) and Neil de Wet (International Global Change Institute, University of Waikato ).

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