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NZMA Position Statement on Health and Climate Change

May 2010

The NZMA recognises the important role the health sector plays in supporting the efforts of all New Zealanders to find environmentally responsible ways to perform their daily activities by contributing to the management of global environmental issues, such as issues relating to climate change.

In relation to climate change the NZMA:

  1. Concurs with the scientific consensus that the Earth is undergoing adverse global climate change and that anthropogenic contributions are significant.
  2. Believes these climate changes will create conditions that affect public health, with disproportionate impacts on vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, and the poor.
  3. Supports educating the medical community on the potential adverse public health effects of global climate change and incorporating the health implications of climate change into the spectrum of medical education, including topics such as population displacement, heat waves and drought, flooding, infectious and vector-borne diseases, and potable water supplies.
  4. Recognises the importance of medical input in policymaking at the national and global level and supports efforts to search for novel, comprehensive approaches to mitigating the effects of climate change to protect the health of the public.
  5. Recognises that whatever the relative contributions of different causes of climate change, policymakers should work to reduce human contributions to such changes.
  6. Encourages doctors and other health professionals to assist in educating patients and the public on environmentally sustainable practices, and to serve as role models for promoting environmental sustainability.
  7. Encourages doctors to work with government agencies to strengthen the public health infrastructure to ensure that the global health effects of climate change can be anticipated and responded to more efficiently.
  8. Supports epidemiological, translational, clinical and basic science research necessary for evidence-based global climate change policy decisions related to health care and treatment.
  9. Believes that the Government needs to prioritise mitigation efforts according to effectiveness and cost effectiveness.
  10. In relation to climate change and human health, the NZMA believes that:
    • because climate change involves potentially serious or irreversible harm to the environment and to human health, it is essential to adopt mitigation strategies that reflect a precautionary approach even where uncertainties may exist in relation to scientific evidence,

    • failure to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on a global basis is likely to cause significant public health problems,

    • effective measures for improved energy efficiency, clean energy production and other emission reduction measures are likely to contribute to reducing the health impacts of climate change,

    • economic assessments of the costs and benefits of mitigating climate change must incorporate the predicted public health costs of unmitigated climate change,

    • there should be greater awareness, at all levels of government, of the direct and indirect impacts of policies, regulations and programmes on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions,

    • individuals, businesses and organisations should be informed about, and take measures to reduce, their carbon footprint by making appropriate changes to consumption patterns,

    • like the AMA, supports the development and implementation of a National Strategy for Health and Climate Change to ensure that New Zealand can respond effectively to the health impacts of gradual climate change, extreme events, and to people’s medium - to long-term recovery needs. That strategy should incorporate the following:

          • localised disaster management plans for specific geographical regions that model potential adverse health outcomes in those areas and incorporate appropriate localised health and medical response measures, including for people who have been evacuated or relocated, temporarily or permanently,
          • measures targeted to the needs of certain vulnerable population groups (elderly, children, Maori andPacificIslandpeoples, members of rural communities),
          • development of effective interventions to address mental health issues arising from extreme events, including those involving mass casualties and from longer-term changes, including drought,
          • programs to improve the education and awareness of health professionals about the links between health and climate change, and their understanding of the risks of new vector-borne diseases and their health impacts,
          • measures to prevent exotic disease vectors from becoming established in New Zealand, and
          • preparedness to deal with the temporary and permanent dislocation of people due to climate-related physical events and economic conditions

 

    • Believes that measures which mitigate climate change will also benefit public health. Reducing GHGs should therefore be seen as a public health priority.

    • Believes that the risks of climate change associated with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere need to be addressed through accelerated action. Behavioural change, innovation and technological progress are necessary to achieve emission stabilisation that will secure NZ’s future.

 

Although New Zealand is likely to be shielded from the worst impacts of global climate change, there remain significant risks to the health of our population. For this reason, in addition to our need to act as a responsible global citizen, the NZMA encourages doctors and the Government to consider the recommendations made in this statement.