COP26: Why it is important for health

In November, the UK hosts COP26 in Glasgow, bringing world leaders together to address climate change. Through the representation of 10 members of our network, the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH) is attending the ‘Blue Zone’ negotiations and presidency programme events as an official observer. This enables us to analyse the impact of presidency programme plans and negotiation outcomes, propose targets and solutions, and enhance transparency. 

What is COP26?

COP26 is the 2021 United Nations climate change conference. This year marks the summit's 26th anniversary, giving it the name COP26. The UK is collaborating with every country in the run-up to COP26 to find an agreement on how to combat climate change. World leaders will convene in Scotland for twelve days of negotiations with tens of thousands of negotiators, government officials, corporations, and individuals.

Why is COP26 important for the health community?   

The climate emergency is a health emergency. Human health is dependent upon the health of the planet. In 2009, the first UCL-Lancet Commission on Climate Change and Health concluded that climate change is the most significant public health threat of the 21st century, with the WHO predicting wide-reaching and catastrophic health consequences of a global temperature rise of over 2 degrees. It is estimated that 250,000 deaths a year between 2030-2050 will be caused by climate change, mostly due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrheal disease and heat stress. The health impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable(link is external), including children, ethnic minorities, older populations and those with chronic illness.


   At COP26, the UK is aiming to secure a global plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. According to the most recent IPCC report, limiting global temperatures to below the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees will require a 45% reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. The most recently declared emission reduction targets made by countries in the run up to COP26 would see a 16% increase in global greenhouse gas emissions which would lead to a 2.7 degree rise by 2100. 

There is still hope. The IPCC report states that there is still an opportunity to keep global temperatures below a 1.5 degree rise with rapid emission reductions. This will have significant health co-benefits. Recent research has shown that climate action consistent with the Paris Agreement could save 1.18 million air pollution deaths, 5.86 million diet-related deaths and 1.15 million deaths due to physical inactivity, with even greater savings made where a heath in all climate policies approach is applied. 

As health professionals, we owe the population a duty of care now and for future generations. 


What did we want COP26 to achieve?  

  • Ambitious cross-sector commitment to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees 
  • Historical emissions and financial capacity should determine the UK’s NDC which should represent a “fair share” 200% reduction by 2030, including support offered to other countries to reduce their own emissions  
  • Concrete, funded adaptation plans which place health at the center of strategies to protect the most climate-vulnerable populations. 
  • Recognition of the role of our natural systems in protecting human health and wellbeing by committing to ambitious nature and biodiversity restoration targets  
  • A health-in-all-climate policies approach to ensure the health impacts of climate change are integral to climate action 


What are our specific demands as leaders in sustainable healthcare and how can we support them?  

We call on governments and health sector leads to: 

1. Invest in the transition to environmentally sustainable healthcare systems to ensure all health systems are Net Zero by 2040 

-> CSH can provide support to healthcare organisations to assess their systems using the triple bottom line approach which is a key tool for securing financial investment.


2. Develop and fund expertise and infrastructure for the transition to environmentally sustainable healthcare systems  

  1. Curriculum change and education 
  2. Specific budgets for Green Plans/sustainability teams in hospitals 
  3. Invest in solutions with longer-term returns 
  4. Prioritise research into sustainable solutions 
  5. Integrate sustainability into commissioning, regulation and legislation 
  6. Collaborate with all players in the supply chain to de-carbonise medical devices and pharmaceuticals 

-> CSH can educate the health workforce on sustainable healthcare principles and work with standard-setters to incorporate sustainability into education for healthcare curriculum. We run introduction and advanced courses on sustainability in healthcare and work with healthcare organisations to transition models of healthcare through our Sustainability in Quality Improvement programme, Sustainable Specialties Programme, Green Ward competitions and Carbon Footprinting expertise.


3. Prioritise a nature-based approach to health system change which is disease-prevention and health-promotion focused 

  1. The benefits to health of good quality, biodiverse green space should be recognized by all healthcare organisations. 
  2. All staff and patients at healthcare sites should have access to green space for their wellbeing  
  3. Green space should be used as a resource for prevention, health promotion, treatment and rehabilitation in both physical and mental health. 

-> CSH runs pilot projects which demonstrate how green space can be used as a resource for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation in both physical and mental health. We work to ensure that all staff and patients at healthcare sites and the wider community have access to green space for their wellbeing