Health professionals support legal challenge against government’s climate policy

Written By: - Date published: 6:19 am, June 28th, 2017 - 4 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, Environment, health, science, sustainability - Tags: , , , , ,

Press release from Ora Taiao the NZ Climate and Health Council

Posted by Rhys Jones 34sc on June 27, 2017

27 June 2017

New Zealanders’ health is at stake in a court case challenging the government over its failure to tackle climate change. Law student Sarah Thomson is taking on the Minister for Climate Change Issues, arguing that New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target is illegal.

As part of the global Paris Climate Agreement, our government chose a weak target of reducing climate-damaging emissions by 11% (below 1990 levels) by 2030. It plans to achieve this mostly by paying other countries to take action.

Ms Thomson’s case argues that the government’s analysis in setting this target was illogically one-sided.  Costs of emissions-reduction action were counted, but the wider gains from climate action and the very real costs of climate changes were ignored.

“From a health perspective alone, Ms Thomson’s case is compelling,” says Dr Rhys Jones of OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council. “Climate change is a medical emergency – and our government’s inaction threatens New Zealanders’ wellbeing, both now and into the future.”

There are two critical aspects to this issue. First, New Zealand must play its part in global efforts to reduce emissions – to limit warming and protect against the most serious impacts of climate change.

“New Zealand’s target is clearly inadequate,” says Dr Jones. “Our emissions per person are amongst the highest in the world – and we can hardly demand big emitters like China, the US and India do more to protect us if we won’t do our fair share.”

The other major aspect relates to our shorter-term interests. “If we focused on doing what’s best for New Zealanders, we would also choose much larger and more urgent cuts in emissions,” says Dr Jones. “That’s because well-planned climate action leads to better health.”

“For example, we know that energy-efficient homes are healthier, protecting our climate and freeing up hospital beds. Rapid moves to more walking, cycling and public transport will cut transport emissions, reduce air pollution, and boost physical activity – reducing the burden of diabetes, heart and lung disease, and cancer. If we do these things right, we can also reduce social and health inequities.”

“The government’s blinkered approach to climate change is already harming New Zealanders’ health and wellbeing,” says Dr Jones. “As health professionals calling for a healthier, fairer New Zealand, we strongly support this important legal climate challenge.”

Media Spokesperson: Dr Rhys Jones, Ph. 021 411 743

Dr Rhys Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) ( is a Public Health Physician and Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, and Co-convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council.


OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council (OraTaiao, The Council) is an incorporated society of over 500 health professionals calling for urgent and fair climate action. We know that climate changes fundamentally threaten human health and wellbeing – and that well-designed climate action can mean greater health and fairness now and in the longer term. Within its membership, OraTaiao has some of the world’s leading climate-health experts. We link with international climate-health organisations internationally, plus other New Zealand health groups. See more at

Background about the case:

“Why I’m taking the NZ government to court”, Sarah Thomson, The Spinoff, 16 June 2017.

NZ-specific climate-health information:

‘Health and equity impacts of climate change in Aotearoa-New Zealand, and health gains from climate action’.


Moderator note – zero tolerance for climate change denial in comments. Bans will be given without warning. 

4 comments on “Health professionals support legal challenge against government’s climate policy”

  1. Bill 1

    New Zealanders’ health is at stake…

    Phew! Thankfully, I’m not a New Zealander and so should be right. Call it ‘adaptation’. 😉

    On a more serious note, I hope this court case blows the debate wide open and right into the mainstream. I admit to not holding my breath mind. I suspect there will be some reporting and the verdict will be reported too.

    But I strongly suspect that what will be entirely absent is any analysis on the actual pro’s and cons of her case or those of the defence.

    • weka 1.1

      I was going to add in the defence’s case points but decided that in the face of potential catastrophic climate change then talking about idiocy, denial and specious arguments was a diversion we can’t afford 😉 (my time is better spent on things I can write about with confidence, someone else is welcome to have a crack at it, it’s pretty easy to pull apart).

      I was less interested in an analysis of the pros and cons of her case (esp the maths 😉 ) than I was in the value of her shifting the debate that much further forward. It’s the shift that is happening culture wide that interests me, and it looks like we are still moving in the right direction.

      I would read a post of analysis of her case though, were someone to write one 😉

      • Bill 1.1.1

        Thinking you’ve missed the point I was trying to make.

        By way of quick comparison, if we were in the UK right now, we probably wouldn’t be able to open a newspaper or turn on the TV without being accosted by analyses of DUP/Tory deal; historic pieces on the DUP; opinions on why the deal with DUP and what it means; on likely consequences both intended and unintended at the specific policy level as well as in a broader sense – and so on.

        That’s what I’d like to see in NZ msm coming off the back of this court case with respect to discussion on global warming. And like I say, I don’t expect to see it.

  2. Richard McGrath 2

    “Moderator note – zero tolerance for climate change denial in comments. Bans will be given without warning.”

    You heard it here first – healthy scepticism will not be tolerated!

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