Climate change, sustainability and environmental health

The effects of climate change are wide ranging with major effects on our health, wellbeing and environment. Scientists, industry and communities must work together if we are to adapt to the changing climate.

ESR is involved with a range of initiatives to better understand climate change impacts, where they may be most felt, who will be most vulnerable, and what adaptation we may need.

We have expertise in drinking water safety, water security, infectious disease, vector-borne disease, radiation and social systems. This allows ESR to provide expert scientific advice to inform climate change planning, adaptation and mitigation initiatives.

We look at how systems behave over time, to interpret how the interactions between environment, health, culture and society affect the wellbeing of individuals, communities and the country. This transdisciplinary approach is essential to understand how the direct effects of climate change influence the downstream (second-order) impacts on communities. Having this understanding is critical to support the ongoing health and wellbeing of communities into the future.

Building resilient health systems

In order to maintain and improve health now and for future generations, countries need to build resilient health systems to protect people, particularly the most vulnerable, from the health risks related to natural hazards, disaster events and climate change. ESR's work in the Pacific has shown first-hand some of the barriers required to overcome natural and climate-related risks to health.

Our scientists used this experience to develop a framework tool for use in the Pacific: Health Adaptation and Action Plan for climate change and disaster risks in Pacific Island Countries [PDF, 1.4 MB] (HAAP-PIC). Led by the Tongan Ministry of Health, the tool was piloted in July 2018 in the Kingdom of Tonga and resulted in this paper: Strengthening Adaptation Planning and Action to Climate-Related Health Impacts in Pacific Islands Countries: Tonga(external link)

For further information regarding the tool and how ESR can support in the Pacific and beyond, please contact Matt Ashworth or Sarah Nelson

Developing a climate change adaptation system 

The effects of climate change will be wide ranging and are expected to have impacts directly and indirectly on human health and the health system. To help anticipate future health risks in New Zealand, adaptation plans can be put in place for mitigating or adapting to climate related effects.

In 2020, the Ministry of Health commissioned ESR to undertake a qualitative study to determine stakeholder views and expert knowledge on climate change related adaptation planning for health. This report examines stakeholder views and expert knowledge on climate change related adaptation planning for health in order to understand stakeholders’ perspectives on the development, effectiveness and utility of a health adaptation plan. 

Developing a climate change adaptation system for health outcomes: Stakeholder perspectives report 2020 [PDF, 947 KB]

Considerations for developing a Health National Adaptation Plan 

Climate change is likely to have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable groups in society. Due to the challenges ahead, many countries have prepared specific health national adaptation plans (HNAPs) as a strategy to help prepare and manage the health impacts associated with a changing global climate.

In 2019, the Ministry of Health commissioned ESR to undertake a review of considerations that need to be made when developing a health national adaptation plan (HNAP).

Considerations for developing a Health National Adaptation Plan for New Zealand report 2019 [PDF, 1 MB]

This report provided information on key differences between national adaptation plans (NAPs) and HNAPs, including comparisons from a selection of international plans, frameworks and guidelines. The outcomes from the work fed into the 2020 report on stakeholder perspectives on adaptation planning for health.

Climate change and environmental health

Climate change is also expected to have environmental health effects, i.e. aspects of human health influenced by physical, chemical, biological, social and psychosocial factors in our environment. To help anticipate and plan for future environmental health risks in New Zealand over the next 50 – 100 years, an understanding of what these effects are, where they might be most felt and who will be most vulnerable to them is needed. 

The Ministry of Health commissioned ESR to undertake a review of the scientific literature relating to climate change and environmental health, to summarise the national and international understanding of these likely effects and to identify gaps in this understanding. The work provides information that can act as a basis for deciding on the next steps needed for putting mitigation and adaptation strategies in place.

Climate Change and Environmental Health report.pdf [PDF, 3.4 MB]

Deep South National Science Challenge

ESR is involved with Vision Mātauranga, one of the five interlinked programmes of the Deep South National Science Challenge(external link), the mission of which is to enable New Zealanders to adapt, manage risk, and thrive in a changing climate. Vision Mātauranga's focus is contribute innovative, practical and sustainable climate adaptation solutions for Māori and all New Zealanders. For the latest news and updates for this Vision Mātauranga programme, go to: link) 

From health sector waste minimisation towards a circular economy

Of the 1.47 billion tonnes of solid waste that is produced each year globally, 5.9 million tonnes (approx. 16,164 tonnes per day) are estimated to be a result of health care waste. This figure has increased year on year, and the COVID-19 pandemic has served as an extreme example of the challenges for sustainable health care waste. Aotearoa New Zealand's health care sector is estimated to contribute between 3% and 8% of national carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions. For comparison, the UK and the USA emit 4% and 10%, respectively, of their national CO2e from health care. Efforts are required to reduce waste production, landfill use and unnecessary procurement costs that arise from district health board activities, thus realising financial, environmental, cultural, health, wellbeing and social benefits.

Read the report From Health Sector Waste Minimisation Towards a Circular Economy [PDF, 1.4 MB] prepared for the Ministry of Health by ESR experts.

Find out more

Contact us to find out more about our climate change work:

Annette Bolton:, Senior Scientist (Climate Change)

Matt Ashworth:, Senior Scientist (Pacific)

Sarah Nelson:, Scientist (Pacific)