Fighting climate change vital to protect Kiwis' health - doctor

Doctors and nurses are taking to the steps of Government, demanding stronger action on the Zero Carbon Bill. 

The Climate and Health Council and other groups representing between them 55,000 health professionals says climate change is the single biggest threat to public health. Some of them will be gathering at Parliament on Thursday, supporting colleagues inside making submissions on the Bill.

Spokesperson Alex Macmillan, a public health lecturer at the University of Otago says the link between climate change and health is undeniable.

"Health workers in New Zealand are really worried about climate change - nurses, doctors - because it has huge impacts on health and wellbeing of New Zealanders."

The Bill aims to have New Zealand's net carbon output at zero by 2050, and methane emissions cut up to 47 percent by 2050. Methane was given its own less ambitious target than carbon because of New Zealand's reliance on agriculture, a big source of both income and emissions. 

The Climate and Health Council says meat's link with obesity, along with rising sea levels and increased exposure to sunlight, are all causing havoc on our health. 

"Obesity and diabetes and cancer and air pollution and road traffic injuries - we can really do a lot about lots of those health issues by taking well-designed action on climate change," says Dr Macmillan, adding that our relationship to meat has to change.

"Not only are they our biggest source of emissions, but transforming our food system is really important for a range of health outcomes."

In a piece for The Conversation earlier this month, Dr Macmillan said climate change would worsen health inequalities. She linked the 2016 Havelock North campylobacter outbreak to an extreme rainfall event, the likes of which will become more frequent as the atmosphere warms.

"If we reduce our transport emissions by improving access to safe walking and cycling routes and electric public transport, air quality will improve and we build physical exercise back into our daily lives," she wrote.

"Shifting our farming sector from a heavy focus on producing milk powder towards plant-based food production would not only change our national diets for the better, but also ensure we are resilient to global food price shocks and improve our fresh and drinking water."

Changing temperatures are also reducing yields from wheat and fish, she said.

"When this worsens, the result is, perversely, an increase in obesity and diabetes, accompanied by nutrient deficiencies, as families rely on cheap, highly processed foods to get by."

Supporters will gather outside Parliament at 12:30pm.