As extreme heat puts the NHS under stress GPs have called time on the climate-wrecking fossil fuel industry. The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is ending its investments in all fossil fuel companies. In doing so it sends a powerful statement to society – it is no longer acceptable to be associated with the industry that has brought us to the brink of a public health emergency. The GP’s announcement comes hot on the heels of a decision by the American Medical Association (AMA) to also cut ties with gas, oil and coal companies.

At Medact we are delighted by the climate leadership being shown by the RCGP. Our dealings with the RCGP treasurer, Dr Steve Mowle, have made it very clear that GPs care not only about treating their patients but are also deeply concerned about preventing damage to health in the first place. Recognising that fossil fuels pose a serious threat to health is very important. By divesting, the RCGP is showing up the fossil fuel industry for what it really is – a rogue industry that is claiming patient lives today and putting the future health of people and planet in even more danger.

Commenting on their divestment announcement, the RCGP’s Chair warned that climate change could put the NHS under severe strain:

 “We already face a seasonal crisis every winter that threatens to destabilise our national health service, but with our summers forecasted to become hotter and hotter, we risk the emergence of a second seasonal crisis, and the NHS will simply be unable to cope.”

– Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners

The recent extreme weather events around the world have highlighted humanity’s vulnerability to the changing climate and health professionals are becoming increasingly concerned:

“Heatwaves like we have seen this summer cause hundreds of excess deaths. As climate change leads to such extreme weather events becoming more and more frequent the RCGP’s decision to divest could not be more timely. This sends a strong message that fossil fuel companies that damage our population’s health through air pollution and climate change have no future.”

– Dr Katie Clare – Public Health Doctor and Medact member

Climate change is already impacting the health of millions of people. Sea level rise and extreme weather events are claiming lives, homes and livelihoods. Rising temperatures are increasing the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. Reductions in crop yield are driving hunger and malnutrition. The world’s poorest people, as well as the poorest within each country, are most impacted by climate change but have contributed least to its causation.

The RCGP’s divestment decision highlights that fossil fuel investment is incompatible with the ethical and professional responsibilities of health organisations. To this day, the fossil fuel industry continues to use its immense lobbying power to undermine the transition away from fossil fuels and to promote false climate solutions. Fossil fuels are also a major contributor to air pollution. Air pollution is comparable to tobacco in terms of the number of deaths per year for which it is responsible. The tobacco and fossil fuel industries have also employed similar tactics to undermine science and create doubt around the damaging impacts of their products.

Two decades ago, health organisations played a leading role in the tobacco divestment movement which paved the way for stronger anti-tobacco legislation. Today, it is heartening to see health institutes make similar moves in the case of fossil fuels.

“The Royal College of GPs is leading the way in the health community by recognising the urgency of tackling climate change to protect public health.  Divestment is one of the most effective tools we have for challenging the power of the fossil fuel industry, which costs the NHS millions each year in treating the effects of air pollution and climate change”

– Alice Munro, Public Health Registrar and Fossil Free Health member

In addition to the recent AMA and RCGP announcements, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Canadian Medical Association and several health insurance companies are divesting from fossil fuels. The World Medical Association has also urged its members to divest. The wider fossil fuel divestment movement is also gathering exciting momentum. Earlier this month fossil fuel divestment gained cross-party support in Ireland while the Church of England’s General Synod voted overwhelmingly in favour of a time-lined divestment approach.  In January New York City committed to divest its $189bn pension funds from fossil fuel companies. Over $6 trillion worth of funds have been committed to divestment worldwide.

Taking on the fossil fuel industry is no small fight – but these divestment victories bring real hope. A chink of light is appearing at the end of the fossil fuel tunnel of doom. Let’s keep pushing towards it; the health – and lives – of so many depend on it.

If you would like to get involved in Medact’s Fossil Free Health work contact Deirdre at deirdreduff@medact.org

Deirdre Duff

Deirdre Duff

Fossil Free Health Campaigner at Medact
Deirdre is a fossil fuel divestment campaigner with a background in oesophageal cancer research.
She leads Medact's work on the Fossil Free Health campaign.
Deirdre Duff
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