Fossil Free Healthcare

Thursday, 29 January, 2015

On the 3rd February, Healthy Planet are publishing their report “Unhealthy Investments”, co-authored with MedAct, The Climate and Health Council, Medsin and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare.

This will be a crucial step towards further engagement on fossil fuel divestment from the health sector. Divestment offers a way to treat one of the root causes of accelerating climate change - the burning of fossil fuels - through moving investments away from the fossil fuel industry whose reserves hold over five times that which is safe to burn if we are to stay below the ‘safe’ 2 degree limit of global warming.

UK Universities currently hold around £5.2 billion worth of investments in fossil fuel companies through their endowment funds. However, it is not simply a matter of money, the main drive behind a lot of divestment decisions has been a moral one - a growing sense that if it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage. Investing in fossil fules can be seen to contradict the fundamental principle to "first do no harm". So far 21 universities, 35 cities, 65 religious organisations and numerous other organisations from around the world including the British Medical Association have committed to divest. Just last October, the University of Glasgow became the first university in Europe to join the list of commitments. 

Medical institutions and the health community have a unique awareness of climate change through its current and future impacts on human health, but also through the potential immense health co-benefits of tackling climate change such as reducing the disease burden of air pollution and increasing active transport. This gives an important dimension to the divestment dialogue and the engagement of medical schools and health organisations is sure to be very valuable. Akin to the health sector leading divestment from the tobacco industry, there is a similar narrative in the response to the health threat of climate change coupled with tactics utilised by the fossil fuel industry to thwart climate policy and mar public perception of the reality of climate science.