Intended for healthcare professionals


Medical schools should include climate change in their curriculum, says report

BMJ 2022; 376 doi: (Published 30 March 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;376:o845


A planetary health curriculum for medicine

  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

Climate change should be embedded in medical schools’ curriculums to help doctors understand the climate emergency and its health impacts, a global policy report has recommended.

The report by Public Policy Projects,1 an independent institute that advocates global policy reform, says that despite some good progress at the COP26 conference in 2021, the health implications of the climate crisis need to be a bigger part of the climate policy agenda and will only worsen without “swift and meaningful interventions” across the board. It argues that health professionals, including doctors, should undertake modules as part of their studies that “explain the various links between climate change and health and its health consequences.”

Speaking at a webinar on 29 March, Elaine Mulcahy, director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, who contributed to the report, highlighted the key role that doctors could play.

“That voice of the health professional and the health community is so critically important,” she said. “Because it hasn’t been embedded in curricula and the education of professionals . . . there is a lack of understanding and a lack of knowledge, and building up that knowledge and really mobilising the health community to be an advocate for change and to be a voice in driving the change that’s needed is critically important.”

Health emergency

The report, chaired by London’s deputy mayor, Seb Dance, argues that the climate crisis is not merely an issue for future generations but “a deadly public health emergency that is already causing deaths and suffering around the world and exacerbating existing inequalities in already vulnerable communities and countries.”

National governments should develop effective strategies to identify, tackle, and review the health impacts of climate change in their countries, says the report, and national adaptation plans should focus more on health and support national governments in developing their climate and health related plans.

It also urges the World Health Organization to consider revising “the narrow disease-specific definition of public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) to include climate change.”

The report says that the coronavirus pandemic has shown how public health is a global priority for every nation in the world and that similar urgency is needed to tackle the health consequences of climate change and to frame it as a health issue.

And while it acknowledges that research is now shedding light on the economic benefits of climate actions, the report emphasises that more work needs to be done to highlight where cost savings are made from factors such as greater access to healthier foods, more physical activity in people’s lives, and healthier and cleaner air.

Marina Romanello, executive director of the Lancet Countdown, who also contributed to the report, told the 29 March webinar, “We as a health community, as policy makers, [need to] come together and give a robust and strong message that we don’t have a liveable future unless we take action now and that climate change is affecting us today: it’s not a problem of the future, it’s not a problem of someone else.”