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Climate change is affecting the health of both people and the planet right now. It will affect the most fundamental determinants of health: water, food air and which infectious diseases we are exposed to. This is something that health bodies around the world have sought to highlight time and again through statements, declarations and calls to action.
Medact – with our partners Healthy Planet UK – are working with the major health institutions in the UK to take this commitment further by divesting from the fossil fuel industry. As a community committed to improving health worldwide, we hope that organisations such as the Royal Colleges and the Wellcome Trust, will remove their investments from an industry whose very business model threatens to completely undermine human and planetary health. The Fossil Free Health campaign enjoyed its first success in June 2014, when the British Medical Association committed to divest from fossil fuels.
Divesting will send an important message to the world that climate change is real and requires immediate preventative action through a drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and rapid transition to a zero-carbon world. Such changes may be considered disruptive and difficult, but are necessary and can bring enormous benefits to human health and well-being both in the short term and in the years and decades to come.
1st December 2015 – yesterday the above letter from health professionals was presented at the Gates Foundation Headquarters in Seattle calling on the foundation to divest from fossil fuels. The letter was signed by over 250 UK health workers, with leading figures including Prof.Hugh Montgomery, Dr David Pencheon of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit, and Professor Sue Atkinson on behalf of the UK Climate and Health Council putting their name to it. The climate negotiations in Paris are an opportunity for the health community to raise awareness of the potential health impacts of climate change. Divestment by the health sector is a vital demonstration of commitment to transitioning to clean, safe and sustainable renewable energy. This letter will remain open to signatories until after the Paris climate negotiations. If you are outside the UK please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to add your name.
To find out more about why it’s important the health community divest from fossil fuels, scroll down below for more information, or read this two-page introduction [PDF in new window] to the issue.
Climate change is already happening, and a rapid fall in emissions is required to prevent severe impacts on health. We simply cannot afford to burn more than one fifth of the world’s remaining fossil fuels if we wish to avoid climate change greater than 2 degrees’ rise, which would be extremely dangerous for health.
To read in depth about the science of climate change and its effects on health, please see the following briefings produced by Medact and its partners the Global Climate and Health Alliance:
Medact: Climate Science for Health Professionals – A Summary of IPPC Working Group 1 Report [PDF]
GCHA and Medact: Climate and Health (A Summary of the IPPC Working Group 2 Report) [PDF]
Simply put, divestment is the opposite of investment. The basic idea of divestment is simple. Health institutions have significant financial investments in the fossil fuel industry and we are asking them to move their money elsewhere.
Divestment is a campaigning tactic that has been used in many high-profile progressive campaigns over the last 30 years. The apartheid divestment campaign of the 1980s – a broad coalition of churches, universities and councils – is credited as a major factor in the collapse of the apartheid government in South Africa.
There is now a growing fossil fuel divestment movement. Universities, churches, local government and others are all being challenged to remove their fossil fuel investments. A very small number of publicly-traded companies hold the vast majority of listed coal, oil and gas reserves. Those are the companies we’re asking the health community to divest from.
This campaign already has broad based supported from both health professionals, students, and those at the heart of the health community. Dr Fiona Godlee, Editor-in-Chief of the BMJ and Dr Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, the President of the British Medical Association, have both voiced their support for divesting from fossil fuels.
There is a wealth of information both about climate change and divestment – see below for a selection of the best.
The key scientific resource for climate change are the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but they can be a bit heavy going, so our campaign partners Healthy Planet UK have this helpful resource. Also, try a few from the list below:
The Carbon Brief is a website containing up-to-date information on climate change news; it also debunks climate myths in the mainstream media.
The report ‘Climate Change: Evidence and Causes‘ [PDF], a publication from the Royal Society, is a little long (40 pages) for those in need of a 5 minute fix, but well worth the read if you’ve a train journey or two.
Skeptical Science is a fantastic resource for all things climate changed related, especially on debunking common climate myths.
Talking Climate is full of useful research and advice on how to talk about climate change.
Alice Bell – “How science works: follow the money”
Fossil Free – A collection of resources from the US-based divestment movement
People and Planet – “Knowledge and Power: Fossil Fuel Universities” [PDF]
Operation Noah – “Bright Now: Towards Fossil Free Churches” [PDF]
ShareAction – “Greenlight Report: Resilient Portfolios in an Uncertain World” [PDF]
There are plenty of ways to get involved in this campaign and we are looking for passionate and committed individuals to join us. Over the next year, we’ll be working hard to make sure the major health institutions commit to divest from fossil fuels and we need all the help we can get to make this happen.
We’re looking for people with experience of research, writing, communications, public speaking, direct action, visual design, film/animation, and education/training.
This campaign is being run jointly by Medact and Healthy Planet. Medact is a charity for and of health professionals and others working to improve health worldwide. Healthy Planet is a network of students and young people across the UK who are passionate about the relationship between global environmental change and health. It was founded in 2006 and is an official campaign of the student health network Medsin. We are both members of the Climate Coalition.