Health professionals have urged their colleagues to back bolder action on climate change, calling the Government's proposed Zero Carbon Bill "essential for the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders".

Public health physicians Dr Andrea Forde and Dr Scott Metcalfe, and Wellington-based policy analyst Liz Springford, set out the importance of tackling climate change in an editorial just published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

They said the impacts a warmer world would have on human health were well recognised - but less known, and just as important, were the health benefits that carbon-cutting measures could bring.

"Tackling climate change is described as perhaps the greatest global health opportunity this century," the three authors wrote.


"Reducing emissions from motor vehicles by changing modes of transport — walking and cycling in particular — increase activity levels with reductions in obesity and cardiovascular disease.

"Reducing meat consumption and changing to a plant-based diet reduces not just emissions but also non-communicable disease, including bowel cancer — a particular problem in New Zealand."

Warm, dry and well-insulated homes that didn't require additional emissions to be heated would also reduce the incidence of respiratory infections and diseases such as asthma.

"In short, measures to reduce emissions in New Zealand have the potential to not just reduce the negative impacts of increased global warming, but also to positively improve health now," they said.

"There are health co-benefits, and savings to health budgets, from reducing emissions.

"We can get important health and productivity gains from well-designed fast climate action, and the sooner we act, the easier the transition and the greater the gains."

Calls for climate action have come increasingly from the health sector over recent years.

One global commission warned the last 50 years of gains in development and global health could be undone by the "medical emergency" that was the threat of climate change to human health.


The Government this week finishes its consultation period on its proposed act, which aims to slash carbon dioxide emissions, at least, to zero by 2050.

A submission guide for people working in the health sector had already been prepared by Ora Taiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council and other organisations.

The NZ College of Public Health Medicine stated in its submission that urgent Government action was required now across all greenhouse gases.

"Climate change is almost certainly already contributing to the global burden of disease and premature death, with larger health impacts expected over coming decade," college president Dr Felicity Dumble said.

"If we don't fight for equitable prevention methods and promote appropriate climate change action, we are all at risk."

The college also agreed with OraTaiao's and others' calls for the government to consider Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) obligations.


"Climate change has serious implications for health equity in New Zealand, especially Māori, Pacific, vulnerable, and lower socioeconomic populations, who are at risk of disproportionate health impacts," Dumble said.

"Therefore, the government must work in Te Tiriti partnership to improve population health, and create a more equitable, just and resilient society."

Consultation on the Zero Carbon Bill closes Thursday. People can make their own submissions via the Ministry for the Environment website.