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SMC: Climate's impact on NZ health and more

Climate's impact on NZ health
Climate change will impact human health both directly – through heat waves and weather events – and indirectly by challenging our mental health, according to a new report.

Published on Thursday by Royal Society Te Apārangi, the report is the third in a series looking at climate change from New Zealand's perspective.

Society President Professor Richard Bedford said knowing what the risks of climate change were meant we could prepare for them and reduce negative outcomes.

"If we think of the basic building blocks of health, such as our shelter, the air we breathe, water we drink and the food we eat, all will be affected by climate change."

University of Otago professor of public health Michael Baker said the report raised "the grim consequences of uncontrolled climate change for our health".

He praised the incoming Government's political commitment to addressing the drivers of climate change. "Mobilising New Zealand to respond to this common threat could bring real economic and health co-benefits as well as obvious improvements to environmental sustainability."

University of Otago senior lecturer Dr Alex Macmillan, who was on the advisory group for the report, said it should be "a wake-up call for us to shift from thinking about climate change as an environmental problem which will be expensive to address, to it being fundamentally an issue of health and quality of life for all New Zealanders".

Dr Macmillan, also co-convener for OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council, said the report highlighted "exciting win-wins that are possible for health and fairness with well-designed climate policy".

"Whether we are trying to reduce climate pollution from transport, housing, industrial energy or agriculture, we can identify particular pathways that will also benefit people’s health and wellbeing."

Fellow OraTaiao co-convener Dr Rhys Jones from the University of Auckland said climate change would "disproportionately affect those groups who already experience the poorest health outcomes".

"For Māori, climate change threatens to further entrench patterns of social disadvantage and unacceptable health inequities that have been established as a result of colonisation and various forms of racism."

"This makes it critical that health and equity are at the core of decision making as we transition to a zero-carbon society," he said. "New Zealand’s response must be grounded in a Treaty framework, informed by Indigenous knowledge systems and with a focus on advancing Māori rights including the right to health."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Quoted: NZ Herald
"If you take a situation where there is possible retreat or coastal erosion, and it's affecting privately owned properties - in the case of South Dunedin it's rather a lot of them - then it's not imminent, but it's still kind of like a slow-moving earthquake."

Dunedin mayor Dave Cull on
the threat climate change poses to the city.

Ministerial positions revealed
New Zealand's 52nd Government has been sworn in, along with new ministerial portfolios.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern was sworn in as Prime Minister on Thursday, following a coalition agreement with New Zealand First and a confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party.

The new ministerial line-up was announced on Wednesday, with Labour's Dr Megan Woods picking up the re-named Research, Science and Innovation portfolio, Dr David Clark as Minister of Health and David Parker the new Minister for the Environment.

The Green Party's James Shaw is the Minister for Climate Change, with Eugenie Sage on conservation and land information.

The Prime Minister has confirmed that the Ministry for Primary Industries will be split back into agriculture, forestry and fisheries agencies. MPI was formed in 2012 from the combination of the Ministry of Fisheries, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the Food Safety Authority.

Labour's Damien O'Connor holds the newly-reinstated agriculture and biosecurity portfolios, with Stuart Nash on fisheries and NZ First's Shane Jones on forestry.

Part of the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement included $1 billion per annum for a Regional Development Fund, which included planting 100 million trees per year, with a goal of planting a billion trees over 10 years.

Jones told Newshub the planting would help bring marginal land back into production "and it's a big fat tick for climate change". The project's headquarters would be based in Rotorua.

Action on climate change

The newly-formed Government has also agreed to take action on climate change through a range of mechanisms outlined in the coalition agreement, including a Zero Carbon Act and an independent Climate Commission.

It would be left to the commission to determine if agriculture would be brought into the Emissions Trading Scheme with a free allocation of carbon credits covering 95 per cent of emissions upon entry.

Ten-year target to boost R&D

The Labour-NZ First coalition will also undertake to increase spending on research & development to 2% of GDP over ten years.
New Zealand’s level of gross spending on R&D is currently 1.3%, according to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), lagging the OECD average of 2.4%.
Labour’s own R&D policy involves introducing a 12.5% tax credit on companies’ spending on research and development.

Te Pūnaha Matatini director Professor Shaun Hendy said it was pleasing to see political support for lifting R&D investment, but it would not have surprised him to see the same in a National-NZ First agreement "had the chips fallen the other way".

"Other countries have managed to grow their R&D spend at the rate envisioned by Labour-NZ First so it should be achievable if the new government can get its policy mix right."

Motu Economic and Public Policy Research director Dr Adam Jaffe said 2% was a good aspirational goal, but "since R&D is mostly about people, we need to recognise that achieving this goal would require an increase in the number of active researchers of something like 50%".

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the R&D target.

SMC welcomes new board chair
The Science Media Centre is excited to have TVNZ producer and reporter Tarek Bazley on board as the new chair of its seven-member advisory board.
Tarek is a veteran reporter who recently returned to New Zealand after serving as Al Jazeera’s science and technology editor based in Doha, where he covered everything from climate change to self-driving cars for the network’s English-language channel.
Now a 1News producer and reporter, he was heavily involved in the network’s successful Vote Compass platform which let New Zealanders explore policy issues in a user-friendly way, and he continues his passion for science-related topics.
“In an increasingly digital world people need to understand how rapid advances in science and technology affect them,” he says.
“From the use of machine learning to make driving safer, to the development of personalised cancer treatments, there’s never been a greater need for communicators who can explore and explain the benefits and potential pitfalls of these new technologies.
Tarek has already attended his first advisory board meeting and served on our expert panel hearing story pitches from scientists at a recent Auckland Science Media SAVVY workshop.
“The SMC’s long-established and trusted role working both with scientists and with the media has made a significant contribution to New Zealand society, but it too must explore how new and evolving digital channels, such as Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram can be used, whether to connect its own quality content with audiences, or to help leading science organisations communicate their findings to the world,” says Tarek.
“Both start-ups and legacy media outlets are continuously experimenting and reassessing the way they engage with audiences and the SMC must do the same, to ensure it continues to be a link vital between our science community and the public of New Zealand,” he adds.
Tarek replaces outgoing advisory board chair Dr Gavin Ellis who was a valued advisor to the SMC for nearly six years and has had a major influence on the centre’s direction. We wish Gavin well for his future endeavours and welcome Tarek into the SMC fold!
You can find out more about our other advisory board members here.

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