25 September 2019
The New Zealand Medical Association declares climate change a serious and leading threat to health and health equity,
both in New Zealand and worldwide.
NZMA has joined health organisations worldwide, including sister organisations the Australian Medical Association,
American Medical Association and British Medical Association in recognising climate change as a health emergency,
At its September meeting in Wellington the NZMA Board declared that climate change is already having severe health
consequences on vulnerable populations around the world, including in our Pacific region and to our most vulnerable
populations including Māori.
“Recognisable health threats from climate change include the direct impacts such as illness and deaths from high
temperatures and other extreme weather events, biologically - mediated events that includes the changing patterns of
infectious disease and socially-mediated impacts with loss of livelihood, forced migration, economic vulnerability and
increased risks of conflict,” says Dr Kate Baddock, Chair of NZMA.
“Climate change is also one of the greatest global health opportunities of the 21st century. “Well planned and effective
measures to mitigate climate change can have substantial health benefits. For example, a shift to active and public
transport, a diet with less red meat and animal fat, and improved housing energy efficiency can, in addition to reducing
greenhouse gas emissions, bring about substantial health and health equity co-benefits, including reductions in type 2
diabetes, heart disease, road traffic accidents, cancer, respiratory disease, and improvements in mental health.”
“The financial costs of responding to climate change will be offset by the cost of doing nothing and doing nothing will
increase health inequity – something we are determined to reverse.”
Intergenerational equity is the fundamental equity consideration that needs to be at the heart of all climate change
legislation and policy. Children and young people from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds are, arguably, the major
stakeholders in this legislation.
Climate action includes prioritising health equity which has significant potential to reduce existing, and prevent
future, health inequities. Simple examples include retrofitting insulation to make homes warm and dry can reduce
childhood asthma and chest infections – as leading causes of hospital admissions, particularly for Māori and Pacific
children. Health benefits from zero-carbon public and active transport include increased physical activity, improved
social connections and more equitable access to education and employment. The financial costs of climate change
responses can be offset by the cost-savings of such health co-benefits.
“Dr Baddock also says that it is “important when designing measures to address climate change that it is useful to value
the concepts of kaitiakitanga (guardianship), aroha (love/compassion), manaakitanga (caring), whakatipuranga (future
generations), hauora (health and wellbeing), and tika (integrity/doing what’s right).”