Global climate changes need action

This article by DEA Member Helen Redmond was published in Medical Observer 15th July 2014 and appears under a Creative Commons licence.

At its annual meeting last month, the British Medical Association (BMA) committed to divest from fossil fuels.

IN their discussion, members acknowledged climate change constituted the greatest global threat to human health, and that it was time to ‘put their money where their mouth is’.

The BMA is the first large medical organisation to make this pledge, but will certainly not be the last, as fossil fuel divestment becomes an increasingly mainstream strategy to limit our carbon emissions.

Indeed, the need to act swiftly to prevent more global warming could not be clearer, and the impacts on human health are becoming of great concern to Australian doctors, too.

The AMA has been a leader in speaking out on this issue —

Four hundred delegates attended the annual Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) conference in March, reflecting burgeoning awareness and concern in our medical community.

Doctors can do much to fulfil their role as community leaders where change is necessary. Asbestos and tobacco are two very good examples.

Climate change has been an equally contested issue, with the ‘merchants of doubt’ as active as they were with tobacco and asbestos.

The stakes, however, could not be higher with climate change, for it will affect us all profoundly eventually. Fossil fuel divestment follows in the tradition of divestment movements against apartheid in South Africa and against tobacco.

The aim is to remove financial investment in the mining and burning of coal, gas and oil, with the goal of keeping up to 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. This is what is needed to give us a chance of stabilising warming at 2 degrees.

The big four banks have loaned nearly $19 billion for new coal and gas projects in Australia since 2008.

International banks (HSBC, The Bank of Scotland, Deutsche Bank, Barclays and Crédit Agricole) have publicly committed not to finance more coal development in Queensland due to threats to the Great Barrier Reef as well as the climate.

Some Australians have chosen to close their accounts with the big four banks and move to a different bank in protest, an action the DEA supports.

Most of us unwittingly support the fossil fuel industry with our superannuation funds.

Around 55% of superannuation is invested in high carbon sectors globally with only 2% in renewable energy.

There are signs that fund managers are starting to see the risks and some are now offering low carbon investment options.

In March, an editorial on climate change and human health in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), stated: “This is an emergency”.

Written by the president of the British Medical Association, Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, and the editor-in-chief of the BMJ, Fiona Godlee, it calls for “immediate and transformative action” and urges fossil fuel divestment as part of an urgent strategy to tackle climate change.

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, himself a doctor, has also called for divestment from fossil fuels, echoing President Obama, the International Energy Agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, among others.

The need to act is urgent. Doctors have a duty of care to humanity to do all in our power to tackle the health threat of climate change.
Fossil fuel divestment is a powerful strategy doctors can support at both a personal and institutional level.

As the BMJ editorial says: “What we all do matters, not least in how it influences others. Those who profess to care for the health of people perhaps have the greatest responsibility to act.”

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