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European Healthcare Climate Summit 2019

Key messages and take-aways: Challenges & Opportunities

By Léa Weimann

Can we re-imagine what health and healthcare mean? Can we move from an illness to a wellness model? Can we build a system that does not perpetuate the same diseases that it claims to treat? Can we build a system that is prepared for the large- scale changes that are coming?

On the 11th of September 2019 the first European Healthcare Climate Summit took place in London at St Thomas Hospital. This is a reflection with take-away messages from the summit and the challenges that lies ahead of us.

According to the Lancet Journal “Climate Change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. However, it also one of the greatest opportunities for change in the healthcare system. It is an opportunity to build a system that is not only better for the environment but fundamentally better for human health. A system that focuses on treating the root causes of diseases and not just the symptoms. A system that recognises the importance of nature and green healing spaces. A system that commits to the Hippocratic oath of “first, do no harm”.

Over the centuries an ever-widening gap has formed between the environment, food and health. Through poisoning our world and environment with pollution, plastic, chemicals and gases we are also poisoning ourselves and putting our own health at risk. In the UK, transport accounts for 26% of emissions and this can be directly linked to 40 000 premature deaths annually due to air pollution. 5 million people live in flood prone areas and by 2030 it is estimated that we will see 7000 additional death’s in the UK resulting from heat stress. Furthermore, the foods that we eat form a direct basis for our health and wellbeing, but the food that is served in hospitals  does not always align with standards of what is good for our planet and bodies. In addition, Climate Change and our connection to the natural world also has a direct effect on mental health and wellbeing. However, healthcare is often completely separated from environmental efforts. If the healthcare sector were a country it would be the 5th largest CO2 emitter globally. Healthcare cannot be separated from environmentalism any longer. We are all in the same boat. We all need to work together to ensure a sustainable and hopeful future.

According to the IPCC report we now have about 10 years left to combat Climate Change which means the next 10 years are fundamentally going to decide what our world and society will look like. Either way, healthcare will lie at the forefront of these changes. It forms the basis of essential human services and needs. It must form a safe harbour for whatever lies in front of us. Therefore, climate change mitigation, resilience, preparedness and awareness are crucial in the healthcare sector. It is time to move away from the limited belief that environmentalism is only for environmentalists, hippies, activists, scientists or for political means. It is for and about everyone. Nurses and doctors are some of the most respected and trusted individuals in our society. We need more doctors, nurses and medical students to stand up and use their voice and influence for climate action. That is why the healthcare sector needs to build a system of resilience, mitigation and leadership in climate action. Furthermore, it is essential that we challenge the myth that climate action and resilience costs money. It is going to cost a lot less now than if we wait until disasters and catastrophes hit us.

The challenge is to use what we know now, “to lay the foundations before we know what the ceiling will look like” in Greta Thunberg’s words. People are the most critical agents for change.  Talking about climate change is important but in order to create change we need to act, and we need to act now. We are all on the same boat. On the same planet. There is a lot to do in this world. More than any of us could do alone but if we all cared enough to lead climate action – we could stand a chance. We need to stop talking about 2050 goals and even 2030 measures. These are too far out for anyone to care about today. But really, it is about today. What can we do today? What changes can we create? How can we use our voice and influence today? What can we do right now? If we all set our mind to it – there is so much that can be achieved.

For all the climate summits and conferences in the world – let’s stop talking and start acting. Let use them as a catalyst for change. We only have 10 years left to bring about major changes and shift systems from harm and environmental destruction to protection and healing. Let us start today.

Our Earth. Our Home. Our Health. Our Mission.