Reflections on my first one hundred days as Officer for Climate Change

After a Clean Air project day at the college last week, Helena Clements, RCPCH Officer for Climate Change, joins us for a blog to chat about her role leading the Climate Change Working Group and Clean Air Fund Partnership.
A photos of the Clean Air Fund Partnership team in their Theory of Change session in the colleges collaboration room

I am about 100 days into this role as Officer for Climate Change. During a recent day in London with our new Clean Air Fellows we spent our time getting to know each other and scoping our work for the Clean Air Fund Partnership. The day’s work included coffee, cakes, playdough and post-it notes and by the end we had produced a clear description of the problem (the impacts of air pollution on child health) and the outputs we are aiming to achieve.  

It feels exciting to have our three clinical fellows supported by our fantastic College staff to do this work over the next two years. This is real focused clinical resource to deliver change and something that until recently has been lacking in health’s response to the climate and health emergency. As the healthcare community mobilises around this crisis there are increasing opportunities for individuals to join the emerging workforce, seeking clinical, social, economic and political solutions that will take us towards a healthy low carbon future. Something to celebrate particularly when the NHS is stretched to capacity and perpetually lacks the headspace to create a new vision for health so badly needed for our population, our economy, the NHS and the planet.

Five years ago, I had my own personal epiphany that safeguarding the health and wellbeing of my patients was pointless without safeguarding their futures.

The work of paediatricians across the country and particularly in the Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) without protected time is outstanding and continuing. The leadership from our President Camilla and previous RCPCH Treasurer Liz Marder has been constant, and our message that the climate crisis is a child rights crisis has been delivered at every opportunity, clearly and unambiguously! So much has already been achieved and our clean air fellows will add to this providing information and tools to help us support our individual patients, local communities and national leaders to address the causes of air pollution and climate change. 

And my role in all of this? I think I am here to guide and support, be a cheerleader and hopefully door opener. Five years ago, I had my own personal epiphany that safeguarding the health and wellbeing of my patients was pointless without safeguarding their futures. I have been opening doors and linking up people and ideas since then. Starting with my own Trust, then our ICS, the next obvious door was at a national level and the opportunity offered by the RCPCH Officer for Climate Change post was irresistible.

The role is broad. I have just met virtually with the climate leads for many of our Royal Colleges in an Intercollegiate Sustainability Group. This is a forum to exchange ideas and tools and share successes and challenges. I am most excited by the possibility that the medical profession as a whole could speak up together about the climate and health emergency! 

In the last week I have had conversations with international paediatric colleagues looking at how we join forces to inform national and international policy on the climate crisis and the disproportionate impact it has on children. 

I am looking forward to joining the RCPCH officers meeting in early March. This will be a great opportunity to meet up with fellow officers and hear what they are up to but also for me to explain what I am hoping to achieve. Basically, we need to include sustainability, carbon reduction and resilience in every subspecialty, the curriculum and all that the college does. And we need to embrace this as a hopeful vision for a healthy low carbon future. I will be at Conference in Birmingham with my bike and look forward to joining the Ride for their Lives team, our sessions on clean air and climate action and chatting with as many of you as possible about the work ahead of us all.

You might be interested to find out more about our work and learn about some of our upcoming projects: