Tropical diseases feared if NZ warms
01 November 2006

Tropical diseases could spread rapidly across New Zealand as a result of global climate change, health experts say. Mosquitoes carrying highly infectious and often fatal malaria and dengue fever would be able to live and breed further south with a rise in average temperatures of 1deg or 2deg, the Public Health Association of New Zealand (PHA) said yesterday.

Association director Dr Gay Keating said the potential health effects from infectious diseases, heat stress and an increase in respiratory disorders such as asthma and emphysema were hidden factors in the climate-change debate.

"The discussion on climate change hasn't tended to consider the health impacts, which need to be considered alongside economic and environmental fallout," she said.

In the South Island, fewer severe winter frosts and warmer night temperatures in summer would allow disease-transmitting mosquitoes to breed in low-lying estuaries and lakes, Keating said.

More frequent and severe heatwaves and higher humidity could increase smog and air pollution. More pollen and mould spores in the air would affect people with cardiovascular disease, respiratory disorders such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and allergy problems.

"Trees and other vegetation that give rise to allergenic pollens grow more profusely in a warmer climate. When combined with smog and other atmospheric pollutants, illness from allergic respiratory disease, particularly asthma, could increase," she said.

The association had talked to the Government about its concerns. "Now they (the Government) are talking much more clearly. They are taking it much more seriously from about a year or so ago, when the major focus was on the carbon tax and Kyoto (Protocol)," Keating said.

Experts are watching with interest the zeal with which Prime Minister Helen Clark has picked up the climate-change baton in the past few days.

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said Clark's desire for New Zealand to be the first "truly sustainable country" was "a wonderful goal". "But it's one the Green Party has called for for 30 years. Unlike Labour and National, we have policies in place to achieve it," Fitzsimons said.

"We don't see that Labour has, but it's hard to do working with New Zealand First and United Future, neither of which put sustainability high on the list. This is a war of words between Labour and National. We'd prefer to see a battle of ideas and action."

Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor said: "If the policy development matches the rhetoric, that would be great, but it's wait and see. This kind of matches in a sense what has happened in the United Kingdom, where the Prime Minister (Tony Blair) has taken a personal interest in climate change and has essentially driven policy development."

The Green Party yesterday appealed to the British Green Party not to support a campaign against New Zealand dairy products and lamb based on what it called misinformation.

A report by former British Cabinet minister Stephen Byers used New Zealand kiwifruit as an example of why a green tax should be placed on exotic fruit and produce flown across the world. Byers said for every 1kg of kiwifruit flown to Britain, 5kg of carbon was emitted into the atmosphere.

But Trade Minister Phil Goff said kiwifruit were sent by sea and that Lincoln University research showed the energy used in producing British lamb was four times higher than in New Zealand lamb.

- The Press