Climate Emergency ARM

Author: Marina Politis

This is the second of many pieces arising from the ARM 2019, explaining our positions on the debates which occurred there.

Motion 80 ARM 2019. 80a-e are for reference and were not debated.

Members of the Broad Left were in favour of this motion. We feel that it is very important for our union and the labour movement to to resist climate injustice and to take measures to halt our current climate crisis.

Between 2030 and 2050, there will be an additional 250,000 deaths a year due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress which can be attributed to climate change.[i] Since the 1960s, the annual number of natural disasters have tripled, resulting in over 60,000 deaths annually, the majority in developing countries. i Household and ambient air pollution cause a total of seven million deaths annually. i

These figures will only continue to rise. We cannot continue to sit back and be complacent when faced with a public health crisis of this magnitude. There are no innocent bystanders to ecocide.

Climate change is not the forlorn, emaciated polar bear who features as a cover star for the latest national geographic, but something that will affect all of us. It will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable members of society: children; the elderly; people with mental illness or physical disabilities; those who are less economically affluent and women. It will affect workers all over the world. Climate injustice is not just about equality for our planet, but concerns equality of all groups of people, and we must stop being silent.

The NHS is the UK’s largest public greenhouse gas emitter, which at four percent of emissions is equivalent to the UK airline industry.[ii] [iii] As our healthcare profession strives to save lives and improve quality of life, we need to make a significant contribution. Over a fifth of the NHS’ carbon footprint is contributed by pharmaceuticals, a significant proportion by Metered Dose Inhalers[iv]. Anaesthetic gases using CFCs could be switched for alternatives. The NHS has significant purchasing power which would enable it to influence change in the pharmaceutical industry and in many other sectors. Both products and practice needs to change.

In BMA lobbying and campaigning, we should consider how we can make a positive difference. The trust the public has in healthcare professionals, and the synergy between measures for public health and measures against climate change allows us to be leaders in this movement. Active travel, a reduced working week and high quality insulated housing should be on the priority list. We can also assist whilst seeking improved working conditions – could our work or university placements be organised better, to allow public or active transport? Could food provided for medical staff at night be locally sourced?

In our union, BMA expenses policies should be capped in terms of carbon emissions, rather than solely cost. The times of domestic flights to save a few hours on train journeys must end; and events such as the ARM too must reflect on the resources they use, from travel and food waste to disposable leaflets and power used for lighting.

Measures taken by the BMA, the NHS and the government must go beyond that what is currently being promised, and we can no longer say yes to tokenistic ‘tick-box’ policies and solutions. We need radical social reform instead of mere paper straws and graphic tees rebranded with “save the planet” slogans. Fundamentally, reorganisation of society is needed, with just transition for workers in the polluting industries. We must work with other trade unions to achieve this.

If change is not making us uncomfortable or challenging the way we currently go about our day-to-day lives, then we are simply not doing enough.

It is brilliant that this motion was heard, but we cannot let this close this pressing issue, but instead use it as a springboard to continue to demand more.


[i] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health

[ii] https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/reports/thenhsif/what-if-carbon-neutral-nhs/

[iii] https://sustainablehealthcare.org.uk/blog/we-work-healthcare-%E2%80%93-course-we-care-about-carbon

[iv] https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/time-think-differently/trends-sustainable-services

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