Intended for healthcare professionals


Fossil fuel companies and climate change: the case for divestment

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 25 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3196
  1. Taavi Tillmann, fellow1,
  2. Jonny Currie, GP trainee2,
  3. Alistair Wardrope, medical student 3,
  4. David McCoy, senior clinical lecturer4
  1. 1Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL, London, UK
  2. 2Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Liverpool, UK
  3. 3Medical School, University of Sheffield, UK
  4. 4Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Queen Mary University London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: T Tillmann t.tillmann{at}

Share holder action isn’t working and time is running out

Climate change is likely to have a negative effect on human health through diverse pathways, including extreme weather events and heat waves, the spread of disease vectors to previously temperate climates, and disruption of the water cycle causing drought, famine, conflict, and mass migration.1 To prevent this we need to rapidly replace our dependence on fossil fuel energy with renewables. A debate has emerged within the health community about the best way to stimulate such change.

On one side, the British Medical Association, the Climate and Health Council, and Medact (together with a growing movement outside the health community) are calling for divestment from fossil fuel companies. Such withdrawal of investments should send a clear signal to policy makers and the public that fossil fuel companies are no longer legitimately supporting the general public interest and need to be better regulated.2 Others, however—including the Wellcome Trust and the Gates Foundation—argue that as active shareholders in fossil fuel companies they can change the companies’ practices through dialogue and constructive engagement.3

Although the two sides disagree on how best to change the behaviour of these companies, there …

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