This briefing paper introduces climate change as a determinant of health.
There is general agreement between most scientists that the globe has begun to warm as a result of increases in concentrations in the atmosphere of various greenhouse gases.
There is a tendency when one looks at the variety of environments in which mankind lives to say that a shift in average temperatures of a few degrees over a hundred years can surely be adapted to as it is well within the variations that humans cope with already. The natural systems that sustain human life are subject to thresholds, interactions and complexities that we poorly understand; we may not appreciate how close we are to the limits of adaptation.
While we are reasonably confident that we can foresee the general shape of the consequences of climate change over the next 50years and feel some what confident in our ability to adapt, it does not mean that we will. Many communities and individuals are likely to lack the resources required. While air conditioning is one way of coping with higher temperatures, there are many in New Zealand who cannot afford this. Allowing the effects of climate change to proceed without mitigation and adaptation will exacerbate the health inequalities that already exist.
Health disparities are well recognized in public health and also clinical practice. A central tenet of public health is to eliminate these disparities. Climate change is expected to perpetuate the disparities that already exist, those with fewer resources and less resilience will be mostly at risk.
Our response in New Zealand to the health effects of climate change requires a focused public health movement that is multi-disciplinary and multi-sectorial and allows for coordinated thinking and action across government, territorial authorities, NGOs and academic institutions.
The paper firstly outlines why the effects of climate change are important to recognise with respect to health and outlines a summary of expected effects. Information is included outlining research that already indicates that these effects are being experienced now. A summary of actions being taken within New Zealand and in other countries is briefly examined.
Policies are suggested at both national and regional levels to be actioned by the Ministry.
Why action on Climate Change is important for reducing inequalities
Health considerations are currently conspicuously absent from the minds of those involved in Climate Change (Gill and Stott Dec 12 2009). A search of the Ministry of Health website produced 8 items under “climate change” and none of these related directly to any current policy. (The majority were references to newsletters from the HIA unit within the Ministry)
The recent Fourth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made specific reference to the region of New Zealand and Australia, saying that while it “has substantial adaptive capacity due to its well developed...