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Caroline Shaw

Palatable change

University of Otago, Wellington researchers are collecting evidence to encourage the government to implement climate change mitigation policies in the transport sector that could also have significant health benefits.

Dr Caroline Shaw (Department of Public Health) says the transport sector is one of the fastest growing sources of emissions, and an obvious area for implementing policies aimed at mitigating climate change and the associated long-term health impacts.

But it is also an area where such policies can have huge short-term health benefits – such as fewer vehicle injuries, more physical activity and less air pollution. This, she says, is potentially a way to make climate change mitigation policies a bit more palatable.

A systematic review led by Shaw has shown that international evidence on the health co-benefits of climate change mitigation policies in the transport sector is currently limited. To help fill this “gaping lack” of evidence, she is looking at historical petrol prices in New Zealand over the last decade to see whether increased petrol prices coincide with improved air quality.

She describes her HRC-funded work as a natural experiment for whether a decent, functional carbon tax or emissions trading scheme could be expected to have health benefits through improved air quality.

“This is one way that we can appeal to governments that they should be addressing climate change in the transport sector. Transport is one of the few areas where we can actually reduce our emissions. One way to help make it happen is to make it more attractive by talking about the other policy goals that we could achieve – like health – through increased physical activity or decreased air pollution.”

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