Climate change - resources for child health professionals

We are living at an extraordinary time when human survival on earth is under threat. This can feel overwhelming. It can be hard to hear the mismatch between reports of increasingly rapid climate and environmental breakdown and “business as usual” by political and other leaders. We know that the best response to climate anxiety for young people is taking action with other people who care about the situation we are in. We are no different.

To support our members in this journey, our Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) has collated resources around climate change and health. Starting with five quick actions, this page aims to provide you with a space to easily explore climate and child health resources, education materials, advocacy materials and key evidence/documents.
Last modified
23 April 2024

Five quick actions to start your sustainability journey 

When work life is already so busy it might feel hard to know how to bring sustainability into your work - here we break down a few quick actions you can take to start taking action.

1. Do some background learning

These TED talks are a good start to learning about our climate crisis and the effects on health. You can learn more, including the effects of health care on the climate, in the Education & Training section below.

Ted Talk | Climate change is affecting our health. Is there a cure?

Public health is being impacted by climate change via many pathways - from alterations in infectious disease transmission to water-source compromise, malnutrition, air pollution, and other factors. This talk includes recent analyses that show how mitigating global warming provides extensive health opportunities, as well as major savings in healthcare costs:

Ted Talk | Why it is time for 'doughnut economics'?

Kate Raworth is an economist focused on the rewriting of economics to make it fit for addressing this century’s realities and challenges, including climate change:

eLearning | Environmentally Sustainable Healthcare e-learning programme 

This quick 30 minute Health Education England e-learning for healthcare (HEE elfh) and Centre for Sustainable Healthcare e-learning is designed to support the healthcare workforce with knowledge and skills to deliver healthcare for financial, social and environmental sustainability.

2. Talk about it

This is one of the most effective actions of change. Talk about it with your colleagues, your friends and family to get people thinking and stimulate discussion. You may be surprised how many people share your concerns and want to support you in taking action.

Ted Talk | The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it

How do you talk to someone who doesn't believe in climate change? Not by rehashing the same data and facts we've been discussing for years, says climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. Hayhoe shows how the key to having a real discussion is to connect over shared values like family, community and religion - and to prompt people to realise that they already care about a changing climate:

3. Sign up to the RCPCH Climate Change eBulletin

Stay up to date with news, events and ways to get involved tackling climate change. You can also view all our previous editions.

Sign up to our eBulletin

4. Get involved in a sustainable Quality Improvement project 

There might already be quality improvement (QI) projects that have a sustainability focus going on in your department. In fact, whatever quality improvement project you are doing probably has a sustainability aspect to it such as reduced need for medication in a project improving prevention and early intervention. It just needs measuring!

For more advice, see our Sustainable QI section.

5. Join your Trust's green champion network

Every Trust / Health Board should have one. If not, maybe you could ask for this to be established or set a green paediatrics group up yourself!


Resources to use with children and families 

Here are some resources for you and your students and trainees, and to share with children, young people and families.

Sustainable medicines and inhalers / prescribing

Wales inhaler guidance – Powder inhalers are a more sustainable option and Wales has made great progress by publishing prescribing guideline that highlights options available to prescribe while considering their carbon footprint.

How to reduce the carbon footprint of inhaler prescribing for children and young people with asthma - This resource from Greener Practice and Asthma + Lung UK is a guide for healthcare professionals in the UK to help choose the greenest inhaler that a child or young people will use and will use correctly. 

Kidzmed - This programme was developed to help families to teach children and young people how to swallow pills using a simple six-step technique. Using pills is cheaper for the health boards and trust & reduces carbon footprint, as shown by research published in the BMJ.

Sustainable practice: what can I do? – This interactive map from the BMJ shows tangible actions for sustainable healthcare including showing low carbon alternatives and what you should avoid using. 

Mental health

Eco distress for children and young people – This information resource is for children and young people, their parents, carers, teachers and other people who might support them. It looks at eco distress, what actions you can take to look after yourself and how you can get more help

Eco distress for parents and carers - This webpage is for parents and carers, as well as teachers and others who support children and young people, to help you understand what eco distress is, how to recognise if your child is experiencing eco distress, and provide some suggestions to help them cope with their feelings.  

Sustainable eating and diets

British Dietetic Association: Vegetarian, vegan and plant-based diet - This guide from the BDA looks at how to eat plant based while keeping a balanced diet in mind.

NHS vegan diet - This guide from the NHS helps those following a vegan diet to help get the nutrients they need to keep healthy.

The Vegan Society - These resources advise those following a vegan diet at different life stages, including pregnancy and breastfeeding, under-fives, 5-10 year olds and 11-18 year olds. 

Plant Based Health Professionals - The children and family zone on this website has lots of resources to help families choosing a plant-based diet, including recommendations for supplements, probiotics and good sources of essential nutrients.


Clean air

Air pollution is a pressing public health issue with solutions that often intersect with tackling climate change. It detrimentally impacts human health across the lifecycle and has an unequally large impact on already disadvantaged populations, both in the UK and globally. Children are especially at risk from the health effects of air pollution due to their low weight, small stature and developing organs.

We have collated resources and evidence aimed both at health professionals and patients to support you in taking action to clean up our air.

Clean air resources

Clean Air Hub - Brought to you by Global Action Plan, this hub highlights the causes and affects of air pollution and makes it clear and easy to understand information about air pollution.

Clean air knowledge hub for health professionals – Also from Global Action Plan, this knowledge hub hosts information and resources on clean air for health professionals.

Advocacy 

The tragedy of air pollution - and an urgent demand for clean air - This Ted Talk by Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah is just eight minutes long. She speaks openly and honestly about the tragedy of air pollution that she experienced first-hand when she lost her young daughter. 

Air pollution toolkit (PDF) - Download our toolkit to support paediatricians with approaching their local councils about air pollution. This is designed to be used around local elections, or at any time when engaging with council members or local MPs on this important topic.  

Key reports

Report to prevent future deaths (April 2021) - Coroner Philip Barlow’s report following his investigation into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah. the report outlines the need for healthcare professionals to have the tools to speak to patients about the adverse effects of air pollution.

Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution (Feb 2016) – This report from Royal College of Physicians examines the impact of exposure to air pollution across the course of a lifetime. Highlighting serious health risks of both indoor and outdoor air pollution the report calls for collective action from governments, industries, healthcare professionals and individuals to tackle air pollution.

CMO report on air pollution (Dec 2022) - The first chapters of this report lay out the health problems of air pollution, but most of the report is about achievable solutions. The Chief Medical Officer states that “air pollution is everybody’s problem, but it has improved, and will continue improving provided we are active in tackling it.”  

Resources from the RCPCH and Clean Air Fund partnership 

In partnership with the Clean Air Fund, we are undertaking a two-year project to safeguard a clean air future for children and young people. 

Speaking out about the health impacts of air pollution – This blog from Emily Parker, RCPCH Clinical Fellow outlines her motivations as she starts her fellowship in the Safeguarding a Clean Air Future project and the key documents (linked above) underpinning her passion to make change.

Get involved in the RCPCH Clean Air Network - The primary aim of this new network is to mobilise and empower paediatricians as advocates for clean air, providing them with the necessary knowledge and skills to raise awareness about air pollution's impact on child health.

More resources will be added as the RCPCH Clinical Fellows on this project get to work.


Sustainable quality improvement (Sus-QI)

Thinking about starting a quality improvement project with a sustainable aspect? These resources should hopefully support you to consider the environmental aspects of your QI projects:

Useful tools for sus-QI projects

Improving the environmental sustainability of paediatric care - This paper discusses the principles of sustainable healthcare which may be used to help guide further efforts to reduce the environmental impact of paediatric care.

Sustainability in quality improvement - SusQi offers a practical way to drive incremental change towards a more ethical and sustainable health system.

Healthcare LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) database - an up-to-date open access database of published lifecycle assessments within healthcare. The database makes it easy to search for the carbon footprints of specific procedures, services and equipment.

Carbon footprinting and triple bottom line analysis - With these techniques, the Centre of Sustainable Healthcare can help your organisation to be better prepared to fulfil its goals, to become more efficient and cost effective, to show positive impact and increase its reputation. 

UKHACC carbon literacy guide - To become ‘Carbon Literate’ you need an awareness of how everyday activities have costs and impacts in terms of the carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) emitted, and you need the knowledge to reduce these emissions, on an individual, community and organisational basis.

Reproduceable projects

Replacing polystyrene cups with a sustainable alternative – This Sus-QI Project has removed all polystyrene cups from the neonatal unit at John Radcliffe Hospital, supported with the simultaneous introduction of a reusable and sustainable alternative with all proceeds benefiting a local neonatal charity.

Creating a pill school: The Kidzmed Project – This QI project is about creating a pill school to teach children and young people how to take tabled medication. Tablets are safer, more convenient, cheaper and more sustainable than liquid medications.

Reducing the environmental impact of inhalers in paediatrics at wexham park hospital – This Sus-QI project looks at the carbon footprint of DPI vs MDI inhalers and aims to reduce the carbon footprint of inhaler prescribing through exploring different avenues such as looking at inhaler disposal and reducing duplicate prescriptions.

CSH resource library – This resource library by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare has over 150 different case studies from different specialties and topic areas that you can explore to find reproducible projects.


Advocacy

As paediatricians we can play an important role as powerful advocates for the health of children and young people now and for their futures. Climate change is the biggest public health threat we and future generations face.
 
There are many different ways to be active around climate change locally, nationally, globally. The key thing is to do something! There are a number of different groups and organisations listed below with a range of approaches from lobbying government to direct action. We are more effective (and happier!) when we are engaged and take action as part of a group who share our perspective and values.

Organisations and networks RCPCH are a member of on your behalf

UK Health Alliance on Climate Change - The UKHACC brings together doctors, nurses and other health professionals to advocate for responses to climate change that protect and promote public health. 

Healthy Air Coalition - The Healthy Air Coalition is a collective of leading health, environment and transport organisations with the shared vision of a UK free from toxic air.

Organisations and campaigns you can get involved in

Health Declares - This is a group of health professionals from across the UK. We recognise that the climate and ecological crises are health emergencies requiring urgent action, and we are committed to acting and advocating to protect planetary and human health.

Health for a Green New Deal - Support MedAct in building a grassroots-powered health movement for a just and green society, one that prioritises the health of people and planet over profit.

How to talk about climate justice

Communicating climate justice with young adults in Europe - This messaging guide from Climate Outreach explains the theory of climate justice with clarity, which is certainly food for thought and outlines different methods for communicating climate justice with young people. With some quick do's and don’ts plus three top tips, the guide outlines how to approach conversations to help guide young people and avoid common feelings of helplessness and “doom”. It helpfully breaks down the insights that informed the guide to give a deeper understanding of how many CYP feel about climate change and imbalance of impacts.  

#ShiftTheDail on child health inequalities and climate change

This tool invites paediatricians to advocate for action on climate change and child health inequalities. Advocacy is trying to improve decision-making within systems and organisations. We look at how this works in the NHS and other systems in the UK.


Toolkit 2: Advocate for action


Education and training

Educational resources for you and your trainees.

Courses and eLearning

Environmentally Sustainable Healthcare e-learning programme - Health Education England e-learning for healthcare (HEE elfh) partnered with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare to develop e-learning resources designed to support the healthcare workforce with knowledge and skills in delivering healthcare for financial, social and environmental sustainability.

Royal Society of Medicine Climate Change Series - The Royal Society of Medicine launched a new 10-part series focusing on climate change. Each episode positions health and well-being at the centre of the climate change debate. The series considers the wide-ranging effects on health and wellbeing, with episodes focusing on the heart, the skin, the lungs, the digestive system and much more.

Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH) - This organisation offers strategic input and consultancy on sustainable healthcare research and practice to national and local programmes, and provides lots of useful information, advice, resources and courses.

  • Sustainable Child Health course - This regular course offered by CSH explores the impacts of climate change on the health and wellbeing of children, on the running of services and considers how services may be contributing to the problem.
  • Next dates: Thursday 23 May 2024 [9.00-13.00 BST], Wednesday 6 November 2024 [9.00-13.00 GMT].

The Health Effects of Climate Change - An EdX course on how global warming impacts human health, and the ways we can diminish those impacts.


Organisational change

Major global system change is needed to meet the challenge of climate change. We can contribute to this change at a number of levels.

Your team and department

Green ED - The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has set up an initiative to measure and reduce the environment impact of Emergency Departments in the UK. The framework outlines evidence-based actions with the guidelines and resources required to help achieve them. Their resources are hosted on an open access resources hub.

Green Ward Competition - This is an award-winning, tried & tested leadership and engagement programme to transform healthcare by cutting carbon, improving patient care & staff experience and saving money. 

ICS / Health Board / Trust level

Influencing local health organisations - Health Declares offers a guide to declaring a climate emergency in the health sector.

Global Green and Healthy Hospitals - This brings together hospitals, health systems, and health organizations from around the world under the shared goal of reducing the environmental footprint of the health sector and contributing to improved public and environmental health.

Networks for organisational change

Green Health Wales - A network for sustainable health care in Wales.

Health Care Without Harm - A non-profit network of health care providers (including doctors, nursing staff)  who's mission is to transform the European healthcare sector so that it reduces its environmental footprint, becomes a community anchor for sustainability, and a leader in the global movement for environmental health and justice.

Sustainable Paediatrics Network - An online community of healthcare professionals who are passionate about reducing the environmental impact of paediatric care. This group is working in collaboration with the Climate Change Working Group of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.


Essential documents

Some of the key documents on health and the climate crisis.

Key documents

The Lancet Countdown - This works to ensure that health is at the centre of how governments understand and respond to climate change. Our work ranges from ensuring policymakers have access to high-quality evidence-based guidance, through to providing the health profession with the tools they need to improve public health.

UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC): 

  • 2023 Lancet Countdown UK Policy Brief (PDF) – This infographic from the UKHACC breaks down the UK specific data from the 2023 Lancet Countdown report.
  • UKHACC commitments – UKHACC have identified 10 commitments for health organisations to sign up to demonstrate leadership and take steps to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

RCPCH Climate change and health inequalities: 

  • Position statement - outlines how climate change exacerbates child health inequalities and puts forward the idea that actions taken to combat climate change could also influence child health equity and visa versa 

Preserving the world for future generations – How do children and young people understand and perceive climate change? In October 2023 RCPCH published a report that summarises voices of nearly 100,000 children and young people and their perceptions on climate change. This also has an executive summary, including recommendations from the RCPCH &Us Climate Changers.

Climate and health: applying All Our Health – This resource from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities aims it’s a useful document that aims to help healthcare professionals use their trusted relationships to reduce the contribution of health and care system to the climate crisis.

Declarations

ISSOP Declaration on Climate Change - International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health, ISSOP, are a group of health professionals interested in sharing our experiences and knowledge in the field of social paediatrics and child health.

RCPCH climate change emergency declaration – In October 2020, RCPCH declared climate emergency and published a plan to accelerate the colleges work in the area. 

COP28 health declaration – In a historic milestone, global leaders endorsed the health and climate change declaration, sounding the alarm on severe health implications of climate change. 


Global resources for adapting healthcare systems

Resources and guidance doe adaptation and mitigation measures with a global lens. 

World Health Organization - guidance and strategies  

WHO global strategy on health, environment and climate change: the transformation needed to improve lives and wellbeing sustainably through healthy environments - Read this strategy on health environment and climate change developed by the WHO to respond to the growing burden of diseases due to the climate crisis. 

WHO review of Health in National Adaptation Plans (NAP) - NAPs were developed to build resilience to climate change over the medium to longer term. This review analyses the extent to which health was considered in adaptation planning processes.    

WHO guidance for climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable healthcare facilities - Guidance from the WHO aims to enhance the capacity of healthcare facilities to protect and improve the health of their target communities in unstable and changing climates. 

Adaptation strategies

Operational framework for building climate resilient health systems - The framework addresses how to systematically and effectively address the challenges in health systems presented by climate change.  

Climate Change and Children’s Health — A Call for Research on What Works to Protect Children - This key literature review looks at research into the relationship between climate change on child health. We would recommend reading this review to grasp an understanding of what is known about the impact of climate change on child health and what would be valuable to understand to develop effective adaptation strategies to improve child health.

Contact

Are there resources you think we should add? Send us an email: ccwg@rcpch.ac.uk