Why the UK healthy community’s investments in fossil fuels are bad for health


In a new report published today, Medact and other leading health and climate NGOs argue that the UK health community must phase out its investments in the fossil fuel industry, with air pollution from fossil fuels being responsible for approximately 5% of all UK deaths[1].

The ‘Unhealthy Investments’ report warns that investment in the fossil fuel industry is incompatible with health organisations’ moral and professional responsibilities to address these direct health implications, and the longer-term health impacts of climate change.

Unhealthy Investments – fossil fuel investment and the UK health community

You can find out more about the report on the ‘Unhealthy Investments’ report site: http://www.unhealthyinvestments.uk

Last year, representative members of the British Medical Association (BMA) voted to end its investments in the fossil fuel industry and increase investment in renewable energy, because of the serious health threat posed by air pollution from coal, oil and gas, which accounts for 29,000 early deaths in the UK each year.

In doing so, it joined the 180 other institutions, with total investments worth over $50 billion, to divest from fossil fuels last year.[2] Many members of the health community are now calling on other health organisations to divest, as they have already done from tobacco, on the basis of these health risks. The sums in question are not trivial: the Wellcome Trust, for example, has holdings of £450 million in just four of the major fossil fuel extraction companies.

Writing in the report, Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The UK health profession led the way in the tobacco divestment movement two decades ago, putting the issue firmly on the political agenda, strengthening public understanding of the risks, and paving the way for stronger anti-tobacco legislation. This report shows why, in 2015, fossil fuels can no longer be considered an ethical investment. This is one of the defining challenges of our time.”

Dr David McCoy, Director of health charity Medact, said: “The link between fossil fuels, air pollution and climate change are clear, and the health impacts are unacceptably high. This report sends an unequivocal message that the health sector should end its financial association with the fossil fuel industry.”

“We need a radically different and more sustainable pattern of energy production and consumption. Shifting money away from fossil fuels is an important step in that direction. It’s time for the health community, through organisations such as the Royal Colleges and the Wellcome Trust, to lead the way.”

The findings build on growing evidence of the human health costs of air pollution and of climate change, both of which are primarily caused by fossil fuel combustion. Moreover, many analysts now consider the current value of fossil fuel stocks to be artificially inflated by ‘unburnable’ carbon reserves – oil, coal and gas that, although currently listed on stock exchanges, cannot be burned whilst also avoiding catastrophic climate change.

The report describes the urgency of a transition towards clean energy, both to reduce these short-term health impacts, and to safeguard the health of future generations.

Alistair Wardrope, student doctor and co-author of the report, said: “People worldwide are already dying as a result of the health impacts of fossil fuels, but tomorrow’s doctors will have to cope with the full extent of climate change’s health cost. We have a responsibility to our future patients to ensure that health organisations are not funding what has been described as the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”

More on fossil fuels:

Leaving fossil fuels behind is not unaffordable – it is the alternative that is unaffordable

[1] Public Health England (PHE). (2014) PHE-CRCE-010: Estimating Local Mortality Burdens associated with Particulate Air Pollution. http://www.thehealthwell.info/node/756717

[2] 350.org 2014 year In Review: http://350.org/2014-review/