What do we mean by the 'climate emergency' in Wales?
In 2009, The Lancet reported that ‘climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century’ having the potential to undermine the last 50 years of global health gains in public health. (1,2) The human population is healthier than ever before, but to achieve this we have exploited the planet at an unprecedented rate. A growing body of evidence shows that the health of humanity is intrinsically linked to the health of the environment, but by its own actions humanity now threatens to destabilise the Earth’s key life-support systems. (3)
The Senedd became the first parliament in the world to vote in favour of declaring a climate emergency in 2019 (4). Subsequently, Welsh Government has put in place binding legislation, (4, 5, 6) strategic approaches, (7,8) and ministerial ambitions (9) to drive carbon reduction activity in Wales known as 'decarbonisation'.
Why do healthcare professionals need to get involved?
The Climate Emergency is a public health emergency, but the healthcare sector itself currently contributes to the problem. It is therefore essential that healthcare professionals and providers are both educated on the priority of climate change as a health risk, and also take the necessary action to reduce our contribution to climate change in all its various forms.
The conversation concerning climate change and health has changed from being called the 'greatest global health threat' to the 'greatest global health opportunity' in recent years because of the health co-benefits of taking climate action. Safeguarding the health of future generations depends on commitment to sustainable healthcare today.
The healthcare sector's impact
The global carbon footprint of the healthcare sector has been calculated as being 4.4% of global carbon emissions.(11) In other words, if the healthcare sector was a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
The NHS Wales Decarbonisation Strategic Delivery Plan responds to Welsh Government's declaration and aligns to the ambition for the public sector to be 'net zero' by 2030. NHS Wales, as the largest public sector organisation in Wales, has a key role in delivering this change. The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 encourages us to address health inequalities and poverty alongside the climate crisis.
A call to action for anyone working in healthcare
Sustainable healthcare is not just about decarbonisation and reducing carbon emissions, but also addressing other waste streams such as water and air pollution which contribute to poor health. It considers how to deliver quality healthcare today, without compromising health in the future. Climate-smart healthcare also challenges us to safeguard against environmental risks that could impact our ability to provide safe and effective healthcare for our patients of today, and patients of the future.
Green Health Wales
Green Health Wales is a network of healthcare professionals in clinical, non-clinical, administrative, support and managerial roles across Wales who recognise that the climate emergency is a health emergency.
We aim to Connect, Learn & Transform; to connect across Wales, transcending geographical borders while supporting cross-departmental collaboration. We aim to learn more and empower everyone in the health and social care sector in Wales with the tools and knowledge to address the climate crisis - transforming health care to be climate smart.
Our vision is sustainable healthcare that protects the health of people and the planet; the two are inextricably linked. We recognise that healthcare must play an active role in limiting global temperature rise and want to ensure care is delivered in a way that maximises positive health outcomes and avoids both financial waste and harmful environmental impacts, while adding social value at every opportunity.
We invite you to connect by your location or specialty, to learn from our collection of resources, and to get inspired by others in working in healthcare across Wales to deliver your own transformational project.
1) Costello A, Abbas M, Allen A, Ball A, Bell S, et al. (2009) Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. The Lancet, 373(9676), p.1693-1733. Available at:https://www.thelancet.com/pb/assets/raw/Lancet//pdfs/climate-article.pdf
2) Watts N, Adger W, Agnolucci P, Blackstock J, Byass P, Cai W, et al (2015). Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. The Lancet, 386(10006), 1861-1914. Retrieved from DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60854-6
3) Whitmee S, Haines A, Beyrer C, Boltz F, Capon A, Ferreira de Souza Dias B, et al (2015). Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: report of The Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission on planetary health. The Lancet, 386(10007), 1973-2028. Retrieved from DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140- 6736(15)60901-1
4) Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs (2020) Written cabinet Statement:One year anniversary following the Declaration of a Climate Emergency. Available at: https://gov.wales/written-statement-one-year-anniversary-following-declaration-climate-emergency
5) Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Available at: https://www.futuregenerations.wales/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/WFGAct-English.pdf
6) Environment (Wales) Act 2016Available at: https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2019-05/environment-wales-act-2016-overview.pdf
7) The Climate Change (Carbon Budgets) Wales Regulations 2018Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/wsi/2018/1303/made
8)Prosperity for all –Economic Action Plan (2017)Available at: https://gov.wales/prosperity-all-economic-action-plan
9) Prosperity for all –A Low Carbon Wales (2019)Available at: https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2019-06/low-carbon-delivery-plan_1.pdf
10) Welsh Government Policy Statement (2020) Local ownership of energy generation in Wales –benefitting Wales today and for future generations. Available at: https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2020-02/policy-statement-local-ownership-of-energy-generation-in-wales.pdf
11) Pichler P, Jaccard I, Weisz U, Weisz H (2019) International comparison of health care carbon footprints.Environmental Research Letters, [online] 14(6), p.064004. Available at: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab19e1/pdf