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Climate change could undo 50 years of progress

Climate change could undo 50 years of progress or be a golden opportunity for better health – it’s make-or-break time for government

It’s time for the government to put health and fairness at the centre of strong climate action. In the last half century we have seen a leap forward in health and life expectency. But world-leading medical journal The Lancet says in a report released today that our business-as-usual approach to climate change will undo these improvements. But it also shows that tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.

The report combines up-to-date knowledge about the impacts of climate change on our everyday lives with worldwide experience so far of the costs and benefits of policies and actions.

“We welcome this definitive report on climate change as an urgent issue for our health,” says Dr Alex Macmillan from the NZ Climate and Health Council.

She says New Zealand is not immune from the threats described in the report. Direct and indirect climate change impacts are already being seen here as a result of warming oceans and sea level rise. We can expect worsening illness and injury from heat and other extreme weather, changing patterns of infection including food poisoning, loss of seafood and farming livelihoods, food price rises and mass migration from the Pacific. “Those on low incomes, Maori, Pacific people, children and older people will be hit first and hardest, but nobody will be immune to the widespread health and social threats of unchecked climate change,” she says.

“On the other hand, the report identifies clear health opportunities from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, easing pressure on national health budgets. New Zealand is no exception. Rapidly phasing out coal; switching from car trips to more walking, cycling and public transport; healthier diets lower in red meat and dairy; and energy efficient, warm homes will all cut emissions while also reducing the diseases that kill New Zealanders most and put our kids in hospital – cancer, heart disease, lung diseases and car crash injuries.”

“It’s perfect timing for New Zealand. The government is currently drawing up new plans for climate action ahead of global talks in Paris later this year. But they have used very poor ways to measure the costs of action, completely ignoring any benefits. This report provides a clear framework for counting the costs and benefits for health, including examples of economics savings where actions have already been taken.”

The Lancet Commission calls for political leadership to decarbonise the global economy. Finances and technology are not the problem – a lack of political will is holding our health to ransom. “At the moment, governments spends more on subsidising the fossil fuel industry than on healthcare. With urgent, health-centred climate action we can afford to minimise this serious health threat and improve health and fairness for ordinary people,” says Dr Macmillan.

Together with health professionals around the world, we are calling on the government to take urgent action on climate change, including health in assessments of cost and benefit and placing human wellbeing and fairness at the centre of healthy climate policy.”

ENDS


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