Doctors must lead fight against climate change


The British Medical Association (BMA) is warning that doctors and the NHS must lead by example to address the global health emergency posed by climate change.

In a recent paper, ‘Climate change and sustainability: The health service and net zero’, the BMA calls the climate emergency a “health emergency,” and says the health service has a responsibility to its patients to reduce its own carbon footprint and to strive for net zero emissions.

Failure to act now could, according to the report, result in an additional 250,000 deaths a year between 2030 and 2050 due to rising sea levels and global temperatures, which in turn could result in flooding, famine, displacement of populations and the spread of infectious disease.

Describing climate change as “one of the defining public health challenges of the 21st century, the report cites the health impacts of climate change and pollutants that are already being seen at a local level around 40,000 deaths directly attributed to air pollution in the UK alone.

Nine recommendations outlined within the report are aimed at the government, Trusts and Health Boards and designed to build on existing sustainability measures, which have already seen the NHS reduce its carbon footprint by nearly 20% since 2007. Areas where more progress can be made include more detailed carbon reporting, reduction in single use plastics and the decarbonisation of NHS-related transport. The government must play its part in helping the NHS to achieve these aims.

The report adds that trusts should target more of their capital funding towards to improving the environmental efficiency and sustainability of their estates, and to appoint sustainability champions to empower and support staff into making sustainable choices.

The report says: “Tackling climate change and reducing health service emissions will help to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the UK, both now and in generations to come.

“Achieving net zero carbon emissions will require fundamental societal change and unprecedented action from governments, businesses and the public. The health service has an important role to play in reducing its emissions, showing leadership, and advocating for change.

“The sooner we as a society achieve net zero the better it is for health.”

Download the full report here.

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