Download as pdf Climate Change and Health
Health Professionals Joint Call for Action
September 2014
Health professional groups recognise human-caused climate change as an increasingly serious and urgent threat to health and health equity in New Zealand and worldwide. In contrast, rapid and effective action on climate change represents an important opportunity to improve health, by avoiding negative health impacts and by realising significant health and equity co-benefits from well-designed climate policies.

We note that globally:

  • Climate change is already contributing to global disease, disability and premature death – most seriously affecting people in poor countries, and the poorest within all countries.

We note that health threats for New Zealand include:

  • Direct impacts – e.g. from high temperatures and other extreme weather events such as storms, floods and droughts, causing illness and injuries.

  • Biologically-mediated impacts – e.g. changing patterns of infectious disease, global rises in food prices impacting on New Zealanders' nutrition.

  • Socially-mediated impacts – e.g. loss of livelihoods, forced migration, economic vulnerability and increased risks of conflict.

We also note opportunities for health through action on climate change:

  • More walking, cycling and public transport reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increases physical activity, and can reduce health-damaging air pollution and road traffic injuries.

  • Healthy diets that include more plants and fewer animal products could reduce agricultural GHG emissions, while reducing cancer and heart disease.

  • Improving housing (e.g. insulation) reduces illnesses associated with cold, damp home environments, and also cuts GHG emissions from home heating.

These health co-benefits could reduce the leading causes of death and illness in New Zealand, such as cardiovascular disease, cancers and diabetes, with large cost savings to the health sector. These direct benefits, along with indirect benefits from increased productivity of a healthier population, would help offset the early costs of addressing climate change.

We recognise that:

  • Levels of health risk posed by climate change vary according to age, ethnicity, geographic location, and socioeconomic status.

  • Those at highest health risk from climate change in New Zealand include Māori, Pacific peoples, children, elderly and low income people.

  • Measures to address climate change have the potential to widen or reduce existing health inequities, depending on design and implementation.

  • No country can solve climate change singlehandedly. Without taking rapid and sufficient action itself, New Zealand cannot effectively press for global emissions reductions.

Our vision is:

  • A just transition to healthy people living in a healthy climate.

As health professional organisations we call for:

  • A rapid, whole-of-society, transition to a low GHG-emitting nation, designed to make the most of opportunities for health and creating a fairer society.

  • National emission reduction targets of 80-95% by 2050, consistent with IPCC evidence, accompanied by robust interim targets that fairly share the global carbon budget, and transparent, responsive monitoring of progress.

  • Health sector planning to prepare for the locked-in health impacts of climate change, and rapidly adapting to a low-carbon future.

  • Measures that prioritise and protect groups likely to be worst affected - Māori, Pacific peoples, children, elderly, and low income people.

  • GHG emissions to be a key performance indicator for health sector organisations.

  • Health (including equity) Impact Assessment (HIA) to be routinely undertaken to inform key climate-relevant policies.

  • New Zealand to demonstrate leadership in promoting effective and fair global action to reduce GHG emissions.

  • New Zealand to demonstrate leadership in protecting and promoting health in the climate-vulnerable Pacific region.

This call for action is supported by:
  • OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council
  • NZ Nurses Organisation
  • Health Promotion Forum of NZ
  • Australasian College for Emergency Medicine
  • Auckland University Medical Students Association
  • Medical Students for Global Awareness
  • NZ Medical Students Association
  • NZ College of Public Health Medicine
  • NZ College of Midwives
  • Public Health Association of NZ
Organisational logos_Call to Action_Sep 2014.jpg

Key References

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Woodward A, Smith KR, Campbell-Lendrum D, Chadee DD, Honda Y, et al. Climate change and health: on the latest IPCC report. Lancet. 2014;383:1185-9.

McCoy D, Montgomery H, Sabaratnam A, Godlee F. Climate change and human survival. BMJ. 2014;348:g2351.

World Health Organization and World Meterological Association. Atlas of Health and Climate. Geneva: WHO, 2012.

McMichael AJ, Campbell-Lendrum C, Kovats S, Edwards S, Wilkinson P et al. Global Climate Change. In: Ezzati M, Lopez AD, Rodgers A, Murray CJ (eds). Comparative quantification of health risks: global and regional burden of disease due to selected major risk factors.. Geneva: World Health Organisation, 2004. Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2nd Edition: a guide to the cold calculus of a hot planet. DARA International and the Climate Vulnerable Forum, 2012. (
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Metcalfe S, Woodward A, Macmillan A, Baker M, Howden-Chapman P, et al, New Zealand Climate and Health. Why New Zealand must rapidly halve its greenhouse gas emissions. N Z Med J. 2009;122:72-95.

Phipps R, Randerson R, Blashki G. The climate change challenge for general practice in New Zealand. N Z Med J. 2011;124:47-54.

Dhar D, Macmillan A, Lindsay G, Woodward A. Carbon pricing in New Zealand: implications for public health. NZ Med J. 2009;122:105-15.

Hosking J, Jones R, Percival T, Turner N, Ameratunga S. Climate change: the implications for child health in Australasia. J Paediatr Child Health. 2011;474: 93-96.

Haines A, McMichael AJ, Smith KR et al. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: overview and implications for policy makers. Lancet. 2009;374:2104-14.

Wilson N, Nghiem N, Ni Mhurchu C, Eyles H, Baker MG, Blakely T. Foods and dietary patterns that are healthy, low-cost, and environmentally sustainable: a case study of optimization modeling for New Zealand. PLoS ONE. 2013;8:e59648. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059648.

Macmillan A, Connor J, Witten K, Kearns R, Rees D. The societal costs and benefits of commuter bicycling: simulating the effects of specific policies using system dynamics modeling. Environ Health Perspect. 2014;122:335–344.

Howden-Chapman P, Matheson A, Viggers H et al. Retrofitting houses with insulation to reduce health inequalities: results of a clustered, randomised trial in a community setting. BMJ. 2007;334:460-464.