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Earlier this year, many members of the Primary Care Department backed the successful resolution to divest the University Endowment from fossil fuel companies. This is an important step towards mitigating the climate crisis, which is key to protecting the public health we all hold dear.

© Medact 2020

In 2020 the University divested from fossil fuels. In 2021 we can join the health community’s push for health and climate justice at COP26

Divestment vote in 2020

Earlier this year, backed by many members of the Primary Care Department, Congregation voted in favour of a policy to divest the University Endowment from fossil fuel companies, the culmination of a determined and creative campaign led by Oxford Climate Justice Campaign. Cutting its ties with the fossil fuel industry in this way aligns the University’s investment policy with its own sustainability initiatives, as well as with the world class research carried out by University departments, including Primary Care, that aims to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. More importantly, perhaps, it lends the University’s weight to that of many other universities and institutions (including the British Medical Association, Royal College of General Practitioners, UK Faculty of Public Health, British Psychological Society and the Royal College of Physicians) which have taken a moral stand against an industry that knowingly allowed the climate crisis to escalate for decades by cynically obfuscating debate about climate science and blocking legislation to slow greenhouse gas emissions.

Health and climate justice

The need for rapid and systemic climate action is clear to healthcare practitioners and researchers. We know that maintaining a stable climate is key to protecting the global public health we hold dear, but that the climate has already been destabilised across many regions of the world where devastating impacts of global heating are already being felt. As a report launched by Medact on Monday 7th December argues, climate change exacerbates health inequalities, locally and globally, with the most disadvantaged, those least responsible for emissions, bearing the greatest impacts of extreme weather events, air pollution and the environmental impacts of the extractive industries. Climate stresses further act as a threat multiplier for already-stressed social systems, increasing risks of food and water insecurity, antibiotic resistance and conflict.

Action now and into 2021

2021 is a critical year for climate change as the window to take action to mitigate its worst effects rapidly shrinks and the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) takes place in the UK in November 2021. So what can we in health community do in the year ahead to harness the trust that the public have in health professionals to push for the change we need? One opportunity is provided by a letter coordinated by Medact, Students for Global Health, The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare and Health Declares that the health community is invited to sign. It calls on the Government and COP26 organisers to commit to fair and realistic emissions reductions; to legislate against new fossil fuel infrastructure and to keep the fossil fuel industry and their lobbyists out of the negotiations. Beyond that, it is important to keep up the pressure to ensure that these demands are kept on the agenda until next November. Further blogs on this issue will follow – watch this space!

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