My week began up in Glasgow for COP26. Whilst there, I joined some fascinating discussions with a whole range of nations, each impacted by climate change in different ways. Many are battling more frequent and extreme weather events, worsening air and water quality and some island nations are at risk of disappearing altogether. Despite the urgency and gravity of the situation, there was a clear sense of calm determination and a sense that progress was being made over the conference.
Whilst there I spoke at the ‘Climate Action and Health’ event on behalf of the UK Government as a Minister of State in the Department for Health and Social Care. Most people recognise climate change isn’t just an environmental emergency, it’s also a global health emergency too. According to the UN, climate change is expected to cause around 250,000 extra deaths a year between 2030 and 2050 – and with that many more illnesses, long-term conditions, and trauma injuries.
Therefore, global health systems need to be building up their resilience and playing their part to reduce emissions, as current global health systems contribute just under 5% of global carbon emissions. If they were a country, they would be the fifth-largest emitter.
There are lots of solutions within reach, the UK is already supporting countries in the Caribbean with green technologies in their hospitals. Closer to home, NHS travel and transport make up 3.5% of all road traffic in England. So, the impact of the world’s first hydrogen-electric zero-emission ambulance, capable of travelling up to 300 miles before recharging, will be massive – and I enjoyed seeing one on display while in Glasgow.
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen time and again that by working together we can achieve far more than working alone - from genomic sequencing to vaccine development. COP26 is our opportunity to build on this collaboration, with 50 nations now committed to developing low carbon sustainable health systems and to develop national strategies to make health systems more resilient to climate change, including all four nations of the UK.
Whilst there, I also announced £20m of new funding for the National Institute for Health Research that will be focused on improving the health outcomes of those most impacted by climate change in developing countries. It was a real privilege to represent our country on the world stage and to play a small part in addressing climate change internationally.