Health Justice Means Climate Justice at COP26 ─ letter to the UK Government & COP26 leadership

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When world leaders arrived in Glasgow for the COP26 climate talks in November 2021, they had a critical choice to make: stick with business as usual, or lay the foundations for a fairer, healthier ecologically-sound future?

Covid-19 has intensified the need for a global green recovery that prioritises health and wellbeing. However, like the pandemic, the climate crisis does not impact us all equally. Those who have contributed the least to it are disproportionately also the ones most impacted.

As members of the health community in the UK, we wrote to the UK Government and the COP26 leadership to demand that they take effective action to ensure that global health is prioritised both in the run up to and during the climate talks.

Over 1300 people joined us in calling on the UK Government and the COP26 Leadership to:

  • Commit to ambitious and historically accurate emissions reductions
  • Cancel all new fossil fuel extractive projects
  • Guarantee a Fossil Free COP26

A huge thank you to all who signed!


Boris Johnson PM, Alok Sharma MP, COP26 President, Peter Hill, COP26 CEO, Nigel Topping, COP26 High Level Champion, John Murton, COP26 Envoy, Mark Carney, PM’s Finance Adviser for COP26, Nick Bridge, Special Representative for Climate Change, Archie Young, UK Lead Climate Negotiator

The UK, as host of the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26), holds a unique position of responsibility. In the midst of COVID-19, there is a pressing need for greater ambition and global cooperation to address climate change in order to avoid the next health crisis – where our warming world has a catastrophic impact on the health and wellbeing of our communities.

As highlighted in the Lancet Countdown’s 2019 report tracking progress on health and climate change, populations across the globe have long felt the effects of ecological breakdown, with an increase in the occurrence of extreme weather events, a growing scarcity of resources and changing patterns of infectious disease (1). The WHO has forecast that without immediate action on climate change, around 250,000 additional lives will be lost due to heat stress, malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea annually between 2030-2050 (2). In the UK, according to the Marmot Review (2020), around 2 million people live in areas vulnerable to flooding, while the number of heat-related deaths is projected to rise significantly.3 We know clearly that health and the environment are interdependent.

As organisations and members of the health community in the UK, we are deeply concerned about the risk climate change poses to our patients and the wider communities that we care for ─ we are signing this letter because of the health implications of climate change now and in the future. We therefore demand that the UK government and COP26 leadership take the following steps to safeguard the health of people and planet and lay the groundwork for the success of the climate talks in Glasgow in November 2021:

1. Commit to an ambitious and historically accurate Nationally Determined Contribution

We welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that he intends to urge world leaders to commit to ‘transformational targets’ ahead of the announcement of enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to emissions reductions at the end of the year. However, the UK Government needs to do much more to secure its own path to zero-carbon, as it is not currently on track to meet its own emissions targets (4)

We urge the UK government to commit to a truly transformative NDC that reflects the pressing need to take responsibility for the UK’s historical emissions. To achieve this, the UK must decarbonise in a rapid and just way, in line with an equality-based attribution approach to emissions reductions (5) Investment in a Green New Deal that creates safe, well-paid green jobs and sustainable infrastructure will have significant benefits for the health and prosperity of the UK public, as well as tackling the inequalities in health outcomes that have worsened in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

2. Permanently cancel all new fossil fuel extractive projects

We are pleased to note that the Government recently put a temporary halt to plans for the Whitehaven coal mine in Cumbria (6). However, we urge the Government to now ensure that the mine, which would be the first new deep coal mine in the UK in over 30 years, is scrapped permanently. The Government must also ensure that other new plans for fossil fuel extraction are cancelled, including mines, oil wells and hydraulic fracturing. Instead, projects that create safe, well-paid green jobs should be prioritised.

We also urge the Government to bring UK Export Finance in line with this aim and cease funding fossil fuel projects abroad. Funding should instead be prioritised for projects and initiatives that promote health and wellbeing globally, including helping countries to scale down their emissions and prepare for climate impacts in a way that is just. The UK Government should also reconsider the recent cuts to the foreign-aid budget, to help protect those worst affected.

The UK Government cannot be a world leader on decarbonisation at COP26 while also supporting fossil fuel extractive projects that undermine emissions targets and harm the health of communities across the globe.

3. Guarantee a Fossil Free COP26

As highlighted by recent studies, the world’s five largest publicly owned oil and gas companies spend around $200m annually in order to lobby governments and international bodies with the intention of ‘controlling, delaying or blocking binding climate-motivated policy’ (7). Further research has also indicated how the fossil fuel industry is working to oppose climate-friendly Covid recovery packages (8) We believe that the presence of the fossil fuel industry at COP26 therefore represents a fundamental conflict of interests.

We welcome the UK Government’s previous announcement that it intends to seek only sponsors that are ‘making real contributions to the fight against climate change’. However, in order for COP26 to be a success, the government must go further in ensuring that fossil fuel companies are not able to influence the outcome of the talks (9).

For this reason we call on the UK Government and the COP26 leadership to not accept sponsorship agreements with fossil fuel companies and to ensure that no lobbyists working on behalf of the fossil fuel industry are able to access the talks. We also demand that the decision to appoint SSE plc a sponsor of COP26 is reconsidered. It is not appropriate that a company operating Scotland’s single most polluting industrial site is given such a role at the climate talks.

Covid-19 has shown us that we cannot prosper without healthy societies that live in harmony with nature. As we build back from this pandemic and look towards COP26, we urge the UK government to protect the health of current and future generations by committing to the above demands.

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned