It’s been just two weeks since I started at the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change – and what a time it’s been for climate and health; it feels like the movement is growing much faster than ever before. In this blog I’ll share a few thoughts about how COVID has shaped the connections between health and climate change, as well as some of the things that I’ve heard about recently.
COVID has no doubt massively changed the climate and health connection. On the one hand it has placed significant pressures on health systems and health professionals. It has led to a huge waste stream from single use PPE as well as delays and uncertainty around the UK hosted COP26. This is a crucial event, as one of only ten or so international climate conferences this decade, at which world leaders have the opportunity to respond to the climate emergency in a way that will prevent drastic temperature increases as well as the considerable associated damage to human and environmental health.
The time for action is now
Yet despite these challenges, there is cause for hope. For example, recent international leadership by the USA and the resulting leaders’ summit is but one example of increasing action.
In the health sector too there is progress. Many of us have worked from home for an extended period of time and/or changed our travel behaviours, showing ways in which transport-related emissions can be effectively reduced. NHS England launched the Greener NHS programme to reduce health service emissions to net-zero by 2040, while NHS Scotland and NHS Wales have set similarly ambitious goals. Medical students around the world recently published the Planetary Health Report Card – a way of assessing their medical schools response to climate change work through their curricula, research efforts and the sustainability of their practice. The results are fascinating, with a robust and transparent methodology. I certainly rushed to review the results for my old university, and would encourage you to do the same.
Other fantastic initiatives emerging include the NHS Ocean (which aims to conserve marine ecosystems through better use of healthcare procurement) and the NHS England/Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management Clinical Fellowship Scheme on sustainability. The time for action is now, and it is clear that action is happening everywhere.
Join our Call for Climate Action
With rising awareness of the health impacts of climate change & the health benefits of action to address climate change, we need to do everything we can to keep global average temperatures from rising above 1.5oC on pre-industrial levels. This is why the Alliance has developed a robust call for climate action, detailing the steps we believe must be taken if this is to be achieved – before, during and beyond COP26.
We’re gathering support for these calls among the UK and global heath community, to send a message to international leaders that urgent action is needed to protect health. Use to button below to read more about our call for climate action in more detail, and to add your individual support to our message.
Dr Yannish Naik
Interim Director, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change