The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) – the body of UK health professionals advocating for action on climate change to protect public health – is calling on the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly by 2050 to protect human health.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, UKHACC is urging greenhouse emissions to be cut to net-zero before 2050, meaning that emissions would be reduced to almost zero, with any remaining emissions being offset or ‘captured’.
The call comes as new data shows that 79% of healthcare professionals support the UK adopting an aim to cut its carbon emissions to zero in the next few decades, so it doesn’t add any more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and only 13% think the government is currently doing enough to tackle climate change.
UKHACC represents the UK’s major health institutions, including Medical Royal Colleges, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, Faculty for Public Health, BMJ and The Lancet, and today’s call to government also comes alongside the launch of today’s 2018 report from The Lancet Countdown, which presents results from leading technical experts and academics from 27 partner academic and UN institutions across the globe.
Pointing out how climate change threatens both physical and mental health in the UK, UKHACC’s letter to the PM also underlines the profound opportunities in public health improvement that could be achieved through climate change action.
It urges government to embrace this principle through supporting measures such as active transport and healthier eating initiatives, which reduce greenhouse gas emissions while independently and concomitantly improving health, and offers its assistance – comprising the experience and knowledge of over 600,000 UK health professionals – in developing UK responses to climate change that will achieve this.
UK Health Alliance on Climate Change Director, Laurie Laybourn-Langton said:
“The summer heatwaves are the latest example of how climate change is negatively impacting our health.
“Stopping climate change will stop these impacts from becoming catastrophic. But time is running out, as the UN warned in October, So the Government should do its bit by committing to full decarbonisation.”
British Medical Association Board of Science Chair, Professor Dame Parveen Kumar added:
“Given the significant threat that climate change poses to the health of the nation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an urgent priority and leaders must take action now to offset any further damage.
“Doctors are increasingly aware of the impact pollutants and poor air quality has on a wide range of health outcomes and are concerned about the potentially devastating impact climate change will have on health.
“The government has a responsibility to protect the health of the population and must take the largescale, necessary measures to implement energy efficient infrastructure such as environmentally friendly transport so that we can feasibly reach the 2050 target.
“The future generations deserve to live in a world where their health is not adversely impacted because of the irresponsible behaviour of those that have come before. The implications for health are stark and there is no excuse not to act now.”
Today’s Lancet Countdown report warns that worldwide increases in exposure to and impact of climate change illustrates a high level of risk for the current and future health of populations across the globe.
It describes increases in heatwaves and vector borne diseases, and resulting food and economic insecurities, as indicative of the confounding and devastating effects on public health that we can expect if temperatures continue to escalate unchecked.
In line with the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change letter, the Lancet Countdown 2018 Briefing for UK Policymakers recommends that the UK should set a target for net zero greenhouse gas emissions before 2050, warning that threats to health from increasing heat in the UK are becoming more frequent and more dangerous. The 2003 heatwave, for example, resulted in an additional 2,000 deaths in the UK.
The UK’s Climate Change Act, that was passed ten years ago in in 2008, commits the country to setting legally-binding stepping stones to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as compared to 1990 levels.
The Paris agreement of 2016 aimed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5oC.
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report underlined the need to limit temperature rises to 1.5oC and that this will only be achieved if greenhouse gas emissions are limited to ‘net zero’ globally by 2050.
The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change wants the government to commit to this while implicitly maximising public health, setting an example to other leaders across the world.
Notes to Editors
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,013 healthcare professionals in the UK. Fieldwork was undertaken between 7th – 19th November 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of the NHS workforce by occupation group.
The UK Health Alliance letter is carried in today’s BBC News online and on the UKHACC website.
The Lancet Countdown: tracking progress on health and climate change is an international research collaboration, providing a global overview of the relationship between public health and climate change. Publishing its findings in The Lancet medical journal each year, immediately prior to the UN’s Climate Change Negotiations, the initiative aims to help inform an accelerated response to climate change.
The initiative builds on the influential work of the 2015 Lancet Commission on health and climate change, convened by The Lancet. Its conclusion was that anthropogenic climate change threatens to undermine the last 50 years of gains in public health, while also showing that our necessary response could unlock ‘the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century’.
- The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change comprises the UK’s leading health institutions, representing over 600,000 doctors, nurses and scientists.
- UKHACC members are: Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Physicians, British Medical Association (BMA), The Lancet, Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal Society of Medicine, Royal College of Psychiatrists, British Medical Journal (BMJ), Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health, Royal College of Surgeons of England, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Anaesthetists, Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Public Health, Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare and the Climate and Health Council.
- The Alliance advocates and advises on responses to climate change that protect and promote public health, providing the UK expert voice on the health impact of climate change.
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