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Climate Change Is Claiming Lives – Lancet Countdown 2020 Report

Evidence from the latest Lancet Countdown report show that climate change induced shocks such as wildfires and heat waves are claiming lives now and unless urgent action is taken then health impacts will worsen, so it is timely our government has just declared a climate emergency, said Dr Dermot Coffey, Co-convenor, OraTaiao: NZ Climate and Health Council.

The Lancet Countdown’s fifth annual report, launched today, tracks 40+ indicators on links between health and climate change, presenting the most worrying outlook to date as key trends worsen. For example, the impact of extremes of heat continues to rise in every region in the world with 2019 seeing a record 2.9 billion above-baseline days of heat wave exposure affecting over 65s–almost twice the previous high. Right now, people around the world face increasing extremes of heat, food and water insecurity, and changing patterns of infectious diseases. Already disempowered groups within and between countries are and will bear the greatest burden and no country, including New Zealand, is immune from the health impacts of climate change.

“The Lancet report is yet further confirmation that we need to take bold and urgent action to ensure reduced disruption to lives and livelihoods and as a matter of social and health justice. We know that climate change increases the chances of more extreme weather – and this year in NZ we have seen droughts and flooding taking its toll on local communities,” said Dr Coffey.

“Unfortunately, here in NZ, we aren’t doing enough to limit climate change and there is insufficient climate change adaptation planning. We need to turn this around and make sure our emissions reduction plans have the co-benefits of improving health and equity.

“While we are encouraged to see the NZ government openly acknowledge the climate crisis with its declaration, this is not sufficient or worthy of congratulations on its own- rapid and fair action that leads to measurable improvement is what is urgently needed. And we’d rather see planning which follows proper process to protect vulnerable groups and ensure climate justice, rather than an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

“Really well planned climate action could provide co- benefits by reducing health problems and inequities – for example - the air quality improvements from stopping burning fossil fuels improve health, and there’s an opportunity to tackle diet-related deaths associated with excessive red meat intake which would also reduce emissions associated with livestock. On that last point, according to the Lancet, the global number of deaths attributable to eating excess levels of red meat has risen to 990,000 in 2017, a 72% increase since 1990. Non-dairy cattle contributed 62% of total emissions from livestock in 2017.”

“The climate crisis is also a health crisis and planning needs to be seen through this lens. We’ve seen during the Covid-19 crisis that this government is capable of taking urgent, co-ordinated, evidence-based action - we need to see this kind of leadership again now,” said Dr Coffey.

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