NZ Climate target shows disdain for people’s health Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Yesterday's Government announcement of New Zealand's post-2020 climate target is a shocking failure to act to reduce health damaging greenhouse gas emissions, says OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council.

'This shameful response reneges on the government's fundamental role to protect the wellbeing of New Zealanders, as well as our responsibilities in the Pacific', says Dr Alex Macmillan, the Council's co-convenor. 'Instead of healthy climate action, this smoke-and-mirrors target of 30% reductions on 2005 levels by 2030 continues NZ's race to become the world's highest per person emitter. The Government has tried to disguise its climate failure by repackaging the same weak targets using different numbers.'

'It's hard to understand why our Government is still in climate denial when recent extreme weather events are already showing us the start of climate change impacts on livelihoods and health', continues Dr Macmillan. 'Yet at the same time, New Zealanders are clearly calling for ambitious targets to get us to a healthy low carbon future.'

'Hiding our heads in the sand is no longer an option', says Dr Macmillan. 'Just a fortnight ago, global health leaders inThe Lancetwarned that weak targets like ours threatens to undo the last fifty years of health improvement. They also showed how well-designed policies are a golden opportunity for better health.'

'New Zealanders clearly understand this: 99% of over ten thousand climate target submitters called for at least a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, using 1990 as the baseline, or to eliminate carbon emissions altogether by 2050.'

Submissions were made representing the largest groups of doctors, nurses and public health practitioners by the NZ Medical Association, the NZ Nurses Organisation, the NZ College of Public Health Medicine, Public Health Association, Pacific public health professionals, the University of Otago's Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, and OraTaiao. 'These submissions were highly consistent in urging much more ambitious targets to protect health, as well as for health to be counted in assessments of the costs and benefits of action. These professional bodies have been completely ignored', says Dr Macmillan. 'These health submissions described feasible, affordable policies to achieve targets that would also mean real measurable benefits for health and fairness, addressing major societal issues like obesity, road traffic injury, air pollution and poor quality housing.'

The Council contends that changing baselines and rules will not hide from the world New Zealand's failure to act. 'Instead of using our powerful position on the international stage to push for health-protecting action, New Zealand's actions will undermine global agreement and we will increasingly be seen as a climate pariah.'

'The irony is that our country has all the resources to create a healthy future as the world moves towards zero carbon emissions. The Government's responsibility now is real climate action for the security, health and wellbeing of New Zealanders', concludes Dr Macmillan.



Dr Alex Macmillan ( is a Public Health Physician and Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago and Co-Convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council.

OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Councilare health professionals concerned with climate change as a serious public health threat. The Council also promotes the positive health gains that can be achieved through action to address climate change. See:

INDC submissionsby Health Organisationsincluded those of


Ministry for the Environment's summary of NZ's Climate Contribution consultation submissions is available here.

About Climate Change and Health

Information is available in the following paper from the 2014 NZ Medical Journal:

'Health and equity impacts of climate change in Aotearoa-New Zealand, and health gains from climate action'.

Health threats from climate changes include:worsening illness and injury from heat and other extreme weather, changing patterns of infection including food poisoning, loss of seafood and farming livelihoods, food price rises and mass migration from the Pacific. Those on low incomes, Māori, Pacific people, children and older people will be hit first and hardest, but nobody will be immune to the widespread health and social threats of unchecked climate change. Direct and indirect climate change impacts are already being seen here from warming oceans and sea level rise.

Health opportunities from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, easing pressure on health budgets include:rapidly phasing out coal; switching from car trips to more walking, cycling and public transport; healthier diets lower in red meat and dairy; and energy efficient, warm homes will all cut emissions while also reducing the diseases that kill New Zealanders most and put our children in hospital - cancer, heart disease, lung diseases and car crash injuries.