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NZMA declares climate change a health emergency

25 September 2019

The New Zealand Medical Association declares climate change a serious and leading threat to health and health equity, both in New Zealand and worldwide.

NZMA has joined health organisations worldwide, including sister organisations the Australian Medical Association, American Medical Association and British Medical Association in recognising climate change as a health emergency,

At its September meeting in Wellington the NZMA Board declared that climate change is already having severe health consequences on vulnerable populations around the world, including in our Pacific region and to our most vulnerable populations including Māori.

“Recognisable health threats from climate change include the direct impacts such as illness and deaths from high temperatures and other extreme weather events, biologically - mediated events that includes the changing patterns of infectious disease and socially-mediated impacts with loss of livelihood, forced migration, economic vulnerability and increased risks of conflict,” says Dr Kate Baddock, Chair of NZMA.

“Climate change is also one of the greatest global health opportunities of the 21st century. “Well planned and effective measures to mitigate climate change can have substantial health benefits. For example, a shift to active and public transport, a diet with less red meat and animal fat, and improved housing energy efficiency can, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, bring about substantial health and health equity co-benefits, including reductions in type 2 diabetes, heart disease, road traffic accidents, cancer, respiratory disease, and improvements in mental health.”

“The financial costs of responding to climate change will be offset by the cost of doing nothing and doing nothing will increase health inequity – something we are determined to reverse.”

Intergenerational equity is the fundamental equity consideration that needs to be at the heart of all climate change legislation and policy. Children and young people from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds are, arguably, the major stakeholders in this legislation.

Climate action includes prioritising health equity which has significant potential to reduce existing, and prevent future, health inequities. Simple examples include retrofitting insulation to make homes warm and dry can reduce childhood asthma and chest infections – as leading causes of hospital admissions, particularly for Māori and Pacific children. Health benefits from zero-carbon public and active transport include increased physical activity, improved social connections and more equitable access to education and employment. The financial costs of climate change responses can be offset by the cost-savings of such health co-benefits.

“Dr Baddock also says that it is “important when designing measures to address climate change that it is useful to value the concepts of kaitiakitanga (guardianship), aroha (love/compassion), manaakitanga (caring), whakatipuranga (future generations), hauora (health and wellbeing), and tika (integrity/doing what’s right).”


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