New international research, published today by UKHACC member The Lancet, provides an up-to-date report on extensive health damage from climate change.
The Lancet Countdown report1 is a yearly international collaboration to monitor the evolving threat of climate change on human health across the world, involving 35 organisations from across the world including Universities, the WHO and the NHS’ Sustainability Unit. The report is based on 41 indicators, including “exposure to air pollution in cities”, “sustainable and healthy transport” and “food security and under-nutrition”, and records country-level data.
It also measures the delivery (or otherwise) worldwide governments’ commitments under the Paris Agreement – an agreement described by Christina Figueres (UNFCCC Executive Secretary) as “the most important health agreement ever signed”.
Key Finding: National leaders are increasingly drawing attention to health and climate change at the UN General Debate. This trend has been led by small island developing states, who comprised of 36% of the total countries referencing health and climate change in 2018.”
Another indicator considers the the health sector’s own contribution to the climate crisis, calculating it to account for 4.6% global emissions – a figure very close to the recent estimate published in the Healthcare Without Harm report Health care’s climate footprint (4.4%)2.
This year the Lancet Countdown report provides updates on their indicators through a narrative of the potential lifelong health consequences of climate change on a child born today. It presents a vision of the decreased health, security and quality of life that children could have in the future if urgent action on the climate emergency is not taken, contrasting this with the potential improvements to future lives if a second path (of limiting global average temperatures to “well below 2oC”) is taken.
To coincide with the release of the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report, UKHACC member the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has today declared a Climate Emergency.
The College also today co-launches The Lancet Countdown UK Policy Briefing alongside fellow UKHACC member, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). The briefing provides a summary of the impacts of climate change on public health in the UK and three policy recommendations for urgent actions the next UK government should take, including funding for “climate adaptation” in the health sector, legal adoption of WHO recommended pollution limits and increased funding for active travel infrastructure.
Key Finding: 54% of global cities surveyed in 2018 expected climate change to seriously compromise their public health infrastructure.
The Chair of the College’s new Environmental Special Interest Group, and RCEM representative to the UKHACC, Dr Sandy Robertson, said:
“In light of today’s policy briefing from The Lancet we’re declaring a climate emergency and are pleased to launch the College’s Special Interest Group to help tackle it.
“There is scientific consensus that our climate is changing and that this is linked to human activities. The air pollution and increased frequency of adverse heat events caused by the burning of fossil fuels lead to higher rates of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and mental health crises, all of which will impact on the already overstretched emergency care system.
“Our expertise is in recognising, prioritising and treating emergency conditions. We recognise that climate change is a healthcare emergency and needs urgent treatment to ensure the continued wellbeing of the whole global community.”
In declaring the Climate Emergency, the College has:
1. Created an Environmental Special Interest Group to guide the College and speciality in becoming more environmentally sustainable, whilst maintaining excellent practice.
2. Set a target to reach Carbon Neutrality by 2040 or sooner. The College’s Environmental Special Interest Group will create a detailed action plan on how this will be achieved.
3. Financially divested from fossil fuels. The RCEM first announced this move in July – joining UKHACC members the British Medical Association, Royal College of General Practitioners and the Faculty of Public Health, who have also divested from the industry.
Dr Robertson said: “We’re delighted to co-launch this vital briefing and we urge the government to note its recommendations.”
A Health COP26?
Echoing the Alliance’s own policy, the Lancet Countdown report justifies the requirement for health to be considered as a major theme of Glasgow’s COP26 in 2020, and details the co-benefits that focusing on health in all climate action could have, saying:
“Placing health at the centre of this transition will yield enormous dividends for the public and the economy, with cleaner air, safer cities, and healthier diets.
“Analysis focused on one of these pathways—cleaner air through more sustainable transport and power generation systems—suggests that the economic gains from the health benefits of meeting the Paris Agreement substantially outweigh the cost of any intervention by a ratio of 1·45 to 2·45, resulting in trillions of dollars of savings worldwide.”
Dr Richard Smith, Chair of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, said:
“This report comes at an opportune moment, as all political parties in the UK are campaigning to win the votes of the public and we know that the climate emergency is an important issue, particularly among the young.
“As the Lancet Countdown makes clear, the climate emergency is causing suffering and premature death now. Time is running out to avoid catastrophic consequences. What happens in the next few years will be crucial.
“On behalf of over 650,000 health professionals across the UK, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change calls for the next government to make a legally binding commitment to meeting WHO recommended limits for PM2.5 pollution levels – as well as significant increases in investment in cycling and walking infrastructure.
“The report describes a “first path” for children that is full of suffering but also makes clear that urgent action can create a second path that could lead to full and healthy lives.”
- Watts et al., 2019. The 2019 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: ensuring that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climate. The Lancet. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)32596-6
- Health Care Without Harm, 2019. Health Care’s Climate Footprint: How the Health Sector Contributes to the Global Climate Crisis and Opportunities For Action. https://noharm-global.org/sites/default/files/documents-files/5961/HealthCaresClimateFootprint_092319.pdf
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