16 October 2013 PRESS
Doctors say weak law leaves door wide
open for coal-powered climate change
Doctors say the decision to grant resource
consent for a new coal mine in the North Waikato shows how the law
in New Zealand is failing to protect human health from the negative
effects of climate change.
Glencoal, owned by Fonterra, wants to build and
operate the Mangatangi Open-Cast Coal Mine in rural Waikato to
provide coal to the boilers of Fonterra's dairy factories at
Waitoa, Te Awamutu and Hautapu.
Coal, as the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel,
is a major driver of our changing climate. The latest UN climate
scientists consensus report explains the limited carbon budget that
the world faces, with a call for 'substantial and sustained'
emissions reductions. It's now widely recognised that to avoid a
dangerously changing climate with food and water shortages, extreme
weather events and increased infectious disease, then most of the
world's known reserves of fossil fuels must stay in the ground.
Dr Hayley Bennett from OraTaiao: The New Zealand
Climate and Health Council says "Not being able to talk about
climate change under the Resource Management Act is very
Dr Bennett explains "The Courts in New Zealand
have decided that it isn't necessary for local authorities to take
into account effects on climate change in resource consent
decisions. In the Mangatangi case, the local Council did not have
to consider how mining and burning this coal will damage our
climate, nor did it need to consider the economic risks of
investing in last century technology".
Doctors from OraTaiao believe legal frameworks
in New Zealand are failing to protect people from the negative
health effects of climate change.
Dr Bennett says "The combination of a Resource
Management Act that ignores the climate impact of local consent
decisions with an ineffective Emissions Trading Scheme, means that
climate threats are not dealt with at either local or national
levels. Yet our changing climate is arguably the biggest risk to
human health, our environment and our economy."
As well as changing our global climate, coal
mining also has potential health costs for local communities. There
can be health impacts at each step of mining, transport, and
combustion of coal. "Although we recognise that coal mining has
been an important source of employment for some regions, we argue
that communities deserve healthier, more sustainable employment, as
part of New Zealand's transition to a secure, low carbon
Despite the barriers to stopping coal's health
and climate damage, our duty as doctors and health professionals is
protecting the health of our patients and communities", ends Dr
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