One year on from the British Medical Association’s decision to divest from fossil fuels, the health divestment movement celebrates a year of success with three other health organisations having followed suit in the last twelve months. To mark the occasion, over 70 leading UK health professionals have written to the Wellcome Trust calling on them to go ‘fossil free’ – as part of The Guardian’s Keep It In The Ground campaign. On the same day, Medact members published an Editorial in The BMJ questioning Wellcome’s stance on engaging with the fossil fuel industry.
On 25th June 2014, the Annual Representative Meeting of the British Medical Association – the professional association and trade union for British doctors – voted to remove all its investments from the fossil industry, becoming the first health organisation in the world to do so. Since then, three other health organisations have joined the ‘fastest growing divestment movement in history’ ditching investments in oil, coal and gas industries citing the costs to human and planetary health of continued fossil fuel extraction, as well as the damage caused by the huge political power of the fossil fuel industry on national and international efforts to tackle climate change.
Three other organisations have followed in their footsteps. First, in May of this year, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – one of the world’s leading health research institutions – sold off investments in coal companies from its £16m endowment in a bid to rid itself of ties to firms that contribute most significantly to climate change.
Second, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, which represents more than 21,000 medical practitioners and trainees in Australia and New Zealand, directed its Finance Committee to remove all investments in fossil fuel extraction companies. Professor Nicolas Talley, President of the RACP, explaining the decision to divest, said, “Physicians respect science, including climate change science, and it would not be right for the College to continue to invest in industries with a direct stake in fossil fuels. Our responsibility as physicians is not just to Australia and New Zealand, but to the broader global community who will suffer through a failure to take decisive action for the future.”
Last but not least, health workers’ environmental charity Doctors for the Environment Australia has also committed to divest. The organisation has said, “We who care for the health of others cannot ethically support the burning of coal any more than the smoking of cigarettes… our generation has a rapidly closing window of time in which to act to avoid the worst health impacts of climate change. We can all make our savings and super a force for health, not harm.”
To celebrate the anniversary of the BMA, leading UK health professionals have written to the Wellcome Trust, supporting The Guardian’s Keep It In The Ground campaign, and asking Wellcome’s Board of Trustees to reconsider their position on divestment. The letter comes days after the publication in leading medical journal The Lancet of the report of an international commission into the public health impacts of climate change. The report warns that the risk to human health from climate change is “unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic”, but that prompt policy responses – including an immediate end to coal-powered energy generation and a rapid transition to renewables – offer “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”
The letter is also a call to help grow the wider health divestment movement. Currently a small coalition of doctors, nurses and other health professionals based in the UK, USA and Australia, the health divestment movement are asking health professionals across the world to add their name to the Wellcome Trust letter, and also to join the cause. David McCoy, Director of Medact, said, “If you’re part of a professional association, university, hospital or other health organisation, this is a way to pressure your own institutions to divest from within. The planet is under major stress from climate change and the impact on global health is only going to get worse. The sooner we collectively act to transform our energy systems the better.”