In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy to pass a net zero emission law, committing to bringing all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. This target brings with it a need for all industries, including health services, to behave in a sustainable way.
Climate change has known impacts on the social and environmental determinants of health – affecting clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Children are among the most vulnerable to these resulting health risks and will be exposed to the health consequences for longer. Globally, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. This is likely to have a significant impact on the health sector.
In England alone, the NHS is responsible for around 22 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. This carbon footprint is shaped not just by procured goods, energy use in buildings, and patient/staff travel, but also through our current models of care and clinical behaviours. Substantial changes in service models are therefore needed to reduce healthcare-related carbon emissions in line with national targets.
Our priorities for action
As a medical Royal College, we are focusing our efforts on placing the impact on health at the heart of climate change activity. We are strengthening our relationships with stakeholders who are collectively advocating on behalf of health institutions through our membership of the UK Healthcare Alliance on Climate Change. Through coordinated action, we can maximise our impact to protect children’s health.
There is personal action that individuals can make to influence change, and we can all play our part. We recognise that collective action on climate change needs to be balanced against the current pressures we know our members face in driving forward improvements in child health.
In addition, we recognise the need to investigate the impact of our own institution. The RCPCH environmental policy is currently under review and is one of our identified strategic priorities for 2019-20. The review of this policy will include a look at the environmental impact of our building and the impact of our staff and members, with a focus on how we can identify and share practical ways to make positive changes in the ways that we work.
The College’s existing commitments to tackling climate change:
- An ethical investment policy which clarifies that the College has no direct investment in companies with evidence of owning fossil fuel reserves regardless of their industries
- Annual College ‘Green Week’ designed to raise the profile of sustainability both at work and at home and reducing carbon footprint
- 100% of waste recycled
- Staff encouraged to cycle to work using our free Santander corporate keys
- No purchasing of plastic cups
- Milk purchased in glass bottles
- Main work floors use motion activated lighting
Over the next 12 months (as of November 2019), the College is committed to:
- Develop an RCPCH sustainability policy
- Undertake an external audit of our building to understand how efficiencies can be achieved, and implement recommendations where possible
- Upgrade our IT infrastructure to facilitate committee meetings being held virtually
- Reduce printing by staff use of mobile devices and the College only providing members with printed papers on request
- Ensure all our offices uses energy efficient bulbs
- Launch our position statement on air quality and publish the indoor air quality report
- Continue to work with the UK Healthcare Alliance on Climate Change
We welcome the strategic approach that the NHS has taken towards sustainability, and we encourage the NHS Sustainable Development Unit to keep their NHS Carbon Reduction Strategy up to date.
As a leading Royal College, we will support our NHS colleagues in looking to the future by building the impacts of climate change in to our policy and influencing work. It will also be a central part of our Paediatrics 2040 work, which is predicting and planning for future models of care and workforce needs.
The RCPCH will be supporting Clean Air Day on 18 June 2020.
Published: November 2019