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Tackling climate change to provide health benefit

18 May 2018

Rising temperatures
Natural disasters
Aoraki 2018
Aoraki 2018

ESR scientists are seeking ways to manage the health risks to New Zealanders posed by climate change, labelled this week as one of the biggest threats to society this century.

And they say actions to tackle those changes could go much further than just mitigating future hazards by delivering significant health benefits.

A new report by ESR (the Institute for Environment Science and Research) shows how climate change is expected to affect the health of New Zealanders over the next 50 to 100 years.

Following its release this week, the Government said the country’s health system needed to be better prepared to deal with the effects of increased temperatures and more extreme weather events.  

The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Health, which has now asked ESR to provide scientific advice on how the health sector can adapt to climate change.

The report’s author, ESR scientist Annette Bolton, says an important step would be to reduce emissions, a move that could not only help the environment but bring what she calls co-health benefits.

“The annual cost of adverse health effects such as bronchitis, respiratory and cardiac admissions, cancer and mortality as well as restricted activity for some people, associated with air pollution from vehicles has been estimated at almost half a billion dollars.”

But, Dr Bolton says, there are solutions which would help mitigate some of those effects and solutions which could be adopted relatively easily.

“That includes getting people out of cars and walking or cycling – not just good for the environment but providing a healthier lifestyle – and promoting public transport, which is much more efficient.

“That would bring co-health benefits such as a reduction in obesity and increased physical activity.”

Other environmental benefits would be to help reduce housing-related illness and cancer.

Dr Bolton says those co-benefits are considered by many to be sufficient motivation to act.

“In fact, many ‘climate’ actions should be recommended solely on a health basis. Importantly, there will be positive health benefits for everyone if appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies are implemented sooner rather than later.”

ESR is now working closely with the Ministry of Health on an adaptation strategy which is expected to be completed in 2019.