Fossil Free Health

– A Medact and Healthy Planet UK campaign calling on the UK health community to divest from fossil fuels.

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.

On October 22nd, 2016, the World Medical Association passed a resolution calling on their members and health organisations worldwide to divest from fossil fuels, and reinvest in organisations upholding environmental principles.

“We should push our own organisations to divest from fossil fuel industries completely and as quickly as possible, reinvest in renewable energy sources, and move to “renewable” energy suppliers.”

Editorial in the British Medical Journal, 26th March 2014

The World Health Organisation has long recognised the conflict of interest that the tobacco industry has in tobacco control, and excluded them from tobacco control negotiations. Meanwhile the wider health sector led calls for tobacco divestment and regulation.  Climate change is now recognised as the new tobacco – will you help weaken the power of the fossil fuel industry by calling on your Royal College to divest from fossil fuels?

We are writing to members of the recently formed UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, to congratulate the Royal Colleges on joining forces to call for action on climate change, and hope that they agree that one of the most effective ways to lead the energy transition is to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy and technology.

“There is a key role for the [Wellcome] Trust to play in engaging with the public on issues relating to health impacts of climate change… If the [Wellcome] Trust is to become more involved in issues related to climate change, it will be important to lead by example.”

The Wellcome Trust, Climate Change and Health, Internal Document, 2008

What is Divestment?

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.  As of November 2016, three medical pension funds, in Berlin, Sweden and Denmark, have committed to divestment from fossil fuels.

Climate and Health

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. 


  • Find out more about why it’s important the health community divest from fossil fuels with this two-page introduction.
  • Or read in depth about the science of climate change and its effects on health in our IPCC Briefings.

“Never before have we known so much and done so little. Failing to act decisively and quickly on climate change will inevitably cause great suffering and have potentially catastrophic consequences.”

Leading physicians and medical scientists writing in The Times, 29th March 2014


There is a wealth of information available both about climate change and divestment – what follows is a selection of the best.

Climate Change

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‘ , 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.

Get Involved and Take Action!

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.

If you’d like to get involved, fill in this form, and we’ll be in touch