We know that the environment plays a big role in people’s health and wellbeing – a healthy environment supports healthy people.
Climate change is widely regarded as the single biggest threat to human health. Polluted air and steadily rising temperatures are linked to a wide range of health effects, from increased heart attacks and strokes to the spread of infectious diseases and psychological trauma.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, a healthy environment is also integral to tāngata whenua. Linked to whakapapa, te taiao – the natural environment – is considered a taonga under article two of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, requiring protection as part of our Te Tiriti obligations.
There are many opportunities to adapt and respond to climate change while protecting the natural environment. These include supporting whānau and communities to improve health outcomes by becoming climate resilient, and supporting New Zealand’s international obligations under the Paris Agreement by meeting the requirements of the Carbon Neutral Government Programme (CNGP) and the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019.
The health sector, with its size and scale and large infrastructure assets, has the ability to make a positive contribution to reducing Aotearoa’s carbon emissions, creating a healthy environment and improving health outcomes. We need to operate our health services in a more environmentally sustainable way, highlighting opportunities for improvement as a key component of delivering pae ora – healthy futures for all New Zealanders.
We want to position healthcare in Aotearoa to be sustainable and climate resilient, with an aim to reduce the sector’s environmental footprint.
Te Pae Tata climate change actions
Climate change is noted as a priority in Te Pae Tata Interim New Zealand Health Plan 2022, in which Te Whatu Ora identifies the following actions:
- Implement a climate sustainability and response plan across the health sector.
- Implement emissions targets and performance indicators for national, regional and local levels, and build a national database to track the operational and embedded carbon emission impacts of the health sector.
- With Iwi Māori and other stakeholders, co-design a framework for our approach to climate change, service resilience and environmental sustainability.
- Identify actions to achieve a 25 percent reduction of category-1 emissions by 2025, including a fleet optimisation plan, transitioning boilers to low emission technologies, a nitrous oxide scavenging and destruction pilot and supporting desflurane phase out.
- Identify actions to achieve 25 percent reduction of category-2 emissions by 2025, including designing an energy efficiency programme by 2023 and an LED lighting conversion programme.
- Develop nationally consistent best practice for waste management and business travel policies to reduce flight-related emissions.
- For all procurement contracts, develop, include and enforce policies for social and environmental outcomes and sustainability principles.
Our Environmental Sustainability and Climate Resilience Priorities
An interim work programme is underway to enable Te Whatu Ora to be an environmentally sustainable and climate resilient organisation. This programme will enable us to deliver our Te Pae Tata actions and meet the directions of the CNGP.
The work programme has three focus areas:
Health System Decarbonisation
Goal: To reduce health system carbon emissions in line with a 1.5-degree scenario.
Due to the sheer size of the health sector’s infrastructure and operations, we have the collective potential to make a significant contribution to Aotearoa New Zealand’s carbon neutral goal. Te Whatu Ora recognises its role in achieving the directions of the CNGP, one of which is to set and meet targets in line with a 1.5-degree pathway.
An initial estimate based on hospitals shows that Te Whatu Ora emits approximately 258,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) each year. Our interim work programme puts strong emphasis on decarbonisation, which will involve significant changes and immediate and comprehensive action.
Our Executive Leadership Team has endorsed a CNGP Implementation Policy which, when aligned with our Emission Reporting Framework, shows areas where targets need to be both set and met, with measures to report against. We need to do more work to gather emissions data and ensure all key emission sources are captured and accounted for.
Environment in all Practices
Goal: To realise co-benefits that include the environment alongside health, equity, social and economic values.
Te Whatu Ora has the opportunity to create significant social value and tackle health inequities. Changing the conversation about the relationship between health, climate change and sustainability will support climate resilient communities, where people and whānau experience better physical and environmental health. By identifying co-benefits, we will be able realise the health benefits of the many actions taken to improve environmental sustainability and climate resilience.
We will encourage and support our kaimahi (staff) to lead and create systems and processes that address environmental sustainability with co-benefits in equity, social, and economic values. This focus area includes initiatives to design waste out of the system.
Health System Resilience and Adaptation
Goal: To ensure sector resilience by planning for and adapting to the impacts of climate change.
Climate change impacts many things, from direct threats to human health from extreme events; increased frequency of disease; and mental health impacts from severe social disruption; to climate action creating real opportunities for improvement in population health.
The opportunity to adapt and respond to climate change while protecting the natural environment is broad and varied. New Zealand’s recently released National Adaptation Plan (NAP) requires the health sector to undertake climate risk assessments that will feed into adaptation implementation plans.
For the health sector to be able to respond and prepare in the best way possible, mitigation and adaption activities must be tackled at the same time. This will help safeguard our health system and drive positive outcomes for all.