‘Call to action’ highlights climate change as health issue
NZ ‘call to action’ highlights climate change as mainstream health issue
A joint Call to Action on Climate Change and Health for the incoming government by ten New Zealand health organisations was formally released today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, following a week of health and civil society action at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York.
The summit featured a strong contingent of health leaders, including the US Surgeon General, Editor-in-Chief of the Lancet medical journal, and the World Health Organization, as well as being attended by many heads of state.
In the lead-up to the UN Climate Summit, 400,000 people hit the streets in New York for the ‘People’s Climate March’. “People everywhere are making the links between climate change, human health, and survival,” says Dr Rhys Jones of OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council. “Rather than seeing climate change as an ‘environmental’ issue, it’s becoming increasingly clear to people and health organisations that it is quite literally a matter of life and death,” Dr Jones adds.
Also in association with the summit, the British National Health System has issued a collective statement of intent to deliver climate friendly health services. The statement is the first example of one country’s health sector committing to tackle climate change.
The ten organisations behind New Zealand’s Call to Action on Climate Change and Health include national professional bodies for doctors, nurses, midwives, public health professionals, and medical students.
The Call to Action recognises human-caused climate change as an increasingly serious and urgent threat to health and fairness in New Zealand, as well as worldwide. On the other hand, the Call to Action emphasises that specific policies to address climate change could bring about exciting opportunities to improve health and create a fairer society.
“The New Zealand health sector voice needs to join those voices being raised internationally – in other health systems, international medical journals and world health authorities – to make climate change a mainstream public health issue in New Zealand,” says Dr Jones.
The Call to Action highlights a number of actions that could bring about win-wins for health and climate, as well as providing significant social and economic benefits to New Zealanders. “Rapid moves to much more walking, cycling and public transport; a transition to healthier plant based diets; and energy efficient, warm homes will reduce heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and respiratory disease while also helping to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” says Dr Jones.
“The health sector must press for urgent, health protecting action on climate change by the incoming government, to minimise harm and seize the opportunities for a healthier, fairer society,” Dr Jones ends.
New Zealand Medical Journal editorial discussing the joint ‘Call to Action on Climate Change and Health’ (embargoed until midnight 25 September 2014).
The full ‘Call to Action on Climate Change and Health’ from the ten health organisations is available at: http://www.orataiao.org.nz/Joint+call+to+action
UN Climate Summit Cross System Statement. Sustainable Development Unit, NHS and Public Health England. http://www.sduhealth.org.uk/policy-strategy/engagement-resources/un-climate-summit.aspx
About Climate Change and Health
Climate and health information is available in the New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine’s policy statement on climate change: http://www.nzcphm.org.nz/media/67575/2013_11_6_climate_change_substantive_policy__final-corrected_.pdf
Human-caused climate change is a serious and urgent threat to human health. Climate change and its environmental effects (e.g. warmer temperatures, more heat waves, altered rainfall patterns, more extreme weather such as heavy rainfall events and/or drought, tropical storms, sea-level rise) result in many risks to human health, both direct and indirect, that are recognised by world health authorities and leading medical journals alike.
Globally, leading health threats include water and food shortages, extreme weather events, and changing patterns of infectious disease. In NZ there will also be new health and social pressures relating to climate migrant and refugee populations arriving in NZ and flow-on health impacts from changes in the global economy. NZ already has a relatively high burden of several diseases that are sensitive to climatic conditions, and climate trends may already be affecting the health of New Zealanders. The health impacts of climate change most seriously affect people in developing countries, and the most disadvantaged and vulnerable within all countries.
Health Co-benefits of Climate Action
Addressing climate change is an opportunity to improve population health and reduce inequities (unfair differences in health between different population groups). In NZ, well-designed policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can bring about substantial health co-benefits including reductions in heart disease, cancer, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal disease, respiratory disease, and motor vehicle injuries, and improvements in mental health - with resultant cost savings for the health care system.
These co-benefits arise because some emission reductions measures impact on important determinants of health, especially energy intake (nutrition) and expenditure (physical movement). Housing insulation, clean energy, great public transport and safer walking and cycle ways will all give a double benefit. They give immediate health benefits, especially to New Zealand's poorest families, and also lead the way on reducing carbon emissions. For example:
• Active transport (walking, cycling, public transport) improves physical activity, reduces emissions, and can reduce air pollution and road traffic injuries. Walking and cycling are inexpensive, and public transport is used proportionately more by people with lower incomes – with benefits to health, climate and equity.
• Healthy eating, including increased plant and less red meat and animal fat consumption, would reduce the emissions associated with food production and likely lead to reduced rates of bowel cancer and heart disease.
• Improving indoor environments (e.g. energy efficiency measures such as home insulation) can reduce illnesses associated with cold, damp housing (e.g. childhood asthma and chest infections which are leading causes of hospital admissions, particularly for Maori and Pacific children).
• Increasing energy efficiency and/or moving away from fossil fuels would reduce health-damaging air pollution (e.g. particulates) from fuel combustion, in both indoor and outdoor environments, with large health gains.
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