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Healthcare professionals must lead on climate change

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i5245 (Published 04 October 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5245

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Countdown on Health and Climate Change - Doctors support Plan B’s challenge to the 2050 carbon target

We the undersigned write in support of Plan B’s challenge to the UK’s 2050 carbon target. We write on the basis of the following assumptions:

1. The current UK target of reducing emissions by 80% compared to a 1990 baseline, does not align to the Paris Agreement objective of limiting warming to 1.5˚C and ‘well below’ 2˚C.
2. The current UK target is approximately three times the UK’s share of the global carbon budget for a 50% probability of limiting warming to 1.5˚C.
3. The UK Government is aware that the current 2050 target is inconsistent with the Paris Agreement temperature objective.

Climate change has serious implications for our health, wellbeing, livelihoods, and the structure of organised society. Its direct effects result from rising temperatures and changes in the frequency and strength of storms, floods, droughts, and heat-waves - with physical and mental health consequences. The impacts of climate change will also be mediated through less direct pathways, including changes in crop yields, the burden and distribution of infectious disease, and in climate-induced population displacement and violent conflict. Although many of these effects are already seen, their progression in the absence of climate change mitigation will greatly amplify existing global health challenges and inequalities. The effects also threaten to undermine many of the social, economic, and environmental drivers of health that have contributed greatly to human progress.

Urgent and substantial climate change mitigation will help protect human health from the worst of these effects, and a comprehensive and ambitious response to climate change could transform the health of the world's populations. The potential benefits and opportunities are enormous, including cleaning the air of polluted cities, delivering more nutritious diets, ensuring energy, food, and water security, and alleviating poverty and social and economic inequalities.

As a self-proclaimed ‘climate leader’ the UK Government has a critical role to play in closing the ‘emissions gap’ – ie the gap between the current global trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions and the actions necessary to limit warming to 1.5˚C and ‘well below’ 2˚C (and hence reduce the risks of disaster).

We are therefore disturbed and concerned by the Government’s maintenance of a target despite awareness of its inadequacy. We recognise that after so many years of procrastination there is no longer any guarantee that disaster can be avoided. But if the Government is aiming for failure then failure is all but guaranteed. We urge the Government to show real leadership and revise the carbon target in line with the Paris Agreement (and on the basis of equity and the precautionary principle) as a matter of urgent and immediate priority.

Dr Robin Stott
Board member, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (ukhealthalliance.org)
London

Prof Sue Atkinson
Co-chair, Climate and Health Council
London

Dr Michael Boulton-Jones
Retired physician
Glasgow

Dr Izzy Braithwaite
Junior doctor
University College London Hospital

Dr Mike Gill
Past co-chair, Climate and Health Council
London

Prof Sir Malcom Green
Professor Emeritus, Imperial College, and retired respiratory physician and Founder, British Lung Foundation

Dr Fiona Godlee
Editor in Chief, The BMJ
London

Dr Richard Horton
Editor in Chief, The Lancet
London

Prof Nigel Leigh
Professor of Neurology, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Professor Emeritus, King's College London.

Prof John Middleton
President, UK Faculty of Public Health
London

Prof John Moxham
Director of Clinical Strategy, King’s Health Partners
London

Prof Hugh Montgomery
Professor of Intensive Care Medicine, and Director, Centre for Human Health and Performance, University College London

Dr David Pencheon
Director, Sustainable Development Unit (SDU)
Cambridge

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue The Planet
London

Prof Richard Smith
Chair, icddr,b (formerly, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease, Bangladesh)
London

Dr Jo-anne Veltman
Specialty doctor, Paediatrics
Norwich

Prof John Walmsley
Past President, European College of Veterinary Surgeons

Dr Nick Watts
Director, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change
London

Competing interests: Dr Robin Stott is the co-chair of the Climate and Health Council, and on the board of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change. Dr Izzy Braithwaite has previously held a (mainly voluntary) role as Projects Officer of the Global Climate and Health Alliance from 2014 to June 2016. In this capacity she received payment (£1500) for work involved in organising the 2015 Climate and Health Summit. She has also been involved on a voluntary basis with the UK Climate and Health Council, and wrote the ‘Briefing for UK Policy-Makers’ which accompanied the 2017 Lancet Countdown Report on Health and Climate Change. Dr Fiona Godlee is on the boards of the Climate and Health Council and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change. Prof John Middleton is President, UK Faculty of Public Health, and Patron, MEDACT. Prof Hugh Montgomery is an unpaid executive member of the UK Climate and Health Council, and co-chairs the Lancet Countdown on Climate and Health. Prof Richard Smith is the unpaid chair of the board of trustees of icddr,b [formerly International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease, Bangladesh], which does research on the effects of climate change on health in a country that is being severely harmed by climate change. Dr Jo-anne Veltman is a co-claimant with Plan B. Earth [in respect of a claim for judicial review challenging the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy regarding the 2050 carbon target under the UK Climate Change Act 2008]. Dr Nick Watts is the ED of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, and the Director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change. The remaining signatories: None declared.

23 November 2017
Robin Stott
Board Member
Sue Atkinson, Michael Boulton-Jones, Izzy Braithwaite, Mike Gill, Sir Malcom Green, Fiona Godlee, Richard Horton, Nigel Leigh, John Middleton, John Moxham, Hugh Montgomery, David Pencheon, Robin Russell-Jones, Richard Smith, Jo-anne Veltman, John Walmsley, Nick Watts
UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (www.ukhealthalliance.org)
London WC1H 9JR