UK paediatricians declare climate emergency

We join a coalition of organisations in declaring a climate emergency and publish a plan to accelerate our work in this area.

The College today joins a growing coalition of public health and medical organisations in declaring a climate emergency.

The climate emergency poses an existential threat to population health in the UK and across the world, and its effects are especially detrimental to the health and wellbeing of children and young people. As young bodies are still developing, the impacts of air pollution on younger people — such as stunted lung growth and function — include irreversible damage that can lead to problems later in life.

Younger people also spend more time outdoors and, due to their shorter height, they are more likely to be in close proximity to sources of pollution such as vehicle exhaust systems. With 93% of children breathing polluted air every day, the issue of clean air is a major public health challenge. We’ve called for the air quality standards set by the WHO to be established as legally binding targets. To tackle pollution at its source, we believe that the ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles should be brought forward to 2030.

To guide and deliver our priorities, the College has now convened a Climate Change Working Group, led by RCPCH Trustee Mr Anthony Dunnett CBE, Treasurer Dr Liz Marder, and CEO Jo Revill. The group, which includes trainees and members, will develop four workstreams to govern the College’s activities. The remit of the group includes:

  • Our investment policy
  • Greening our workplace/building
  • Advocacy and policy work
  • Research
  • Our work with stakeholders such as UK Health Alliance on Climate Change
  • Curriculum – guidance to support environmental issues
  • Our carbon footprint

Dr Liz Marder said:

The health impacts of climate change are already with us and there is no greater threat to the future health of children and young people. As adults and paediatricians, we have a responsibility to campaign and advocate for policy changes that will help us pass on a sustainable, safe, and healthy environment for the next generation. This work will help us scope and define those priorities. Crucially, we’ll also look at our own organisational performance – we need to live by our values, and this will mean changing some of our ways of working.

Dr Hannah Jacob, Chair of the RCPCH Trainee Committee said:

It is very exciting to see the College adopt such a clear stance on climate change. By championing this cause, we can be an important part of making the future healthier and safer for children and young people.

The College is grateful for the advocacy of Dr Rosie Spooner and Dr Katie Knight, who have championed work in this area. The group will report findings and recommendations to Council and Trustees in the coming months, at which point a short report will be published.

The College is an active member of the UKHACC and supports the NHS ambition to become world’s first national health system to commit to ‘carbon net zero’.

Read more about the College's work on climate change