The UK's NHS has announced a wide-sweeping plan to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040, the first national health system in the world to do so, writes Dr Caroline Lee. It’s ambitious. It’s necessary. It’s the right thing to do. If the UK can do it, why can't we?
In practical terms, net zero carbon emissions across the health system means means addressing all sources of carbon pollution within the sector.
This including updating hospital infrastructure, optimising energy use, building new low-emissions hospitals, reducing transport emissions, reducing specific carbon-intensive medicines, increasing use of telehealth and working with suppliers to reduce their carbon emissions.
It is nonsensical, even hypocritical, for the health sector to continue to be fuelled by an industry known to harm health.
As advocates for the health and wellbeing of people and their communities, health professionals have a responsibility to oppose practices that endanger peoples’ health, demonstrated by the Hippocratic principle to “do no harm”.
Doctors have stood up to tobacco due to the strong links to cancer, heart and lung disease and other conditions.
Similarly, fossil fuels can be compared to smoking on a wider scale in that climate change poses severe health risks to direct effects from extreme weather events, indirect effects through causes such as air pollution, new infectious diseases and social impacts through loss of land and livelihoods caused by fossil fuel combustion contributing to climate change.
If the Australian Government is unwilling to make strong commitments to reach net zero emissions, the health sector should step up and set an example, by placing the health and lives of people and future generations first.
Dr Caroline Lee is a junior medical doctor working in Sydney. She is also a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.
Read the full article which was published in Independent Australia on 9 November 2020