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The climate crisis is the defining issue of our age. There is an urgent need to accelerate the move towards net-zero carbon emissions. Across the world, governments, multinational companies and the public are beginning to accept that action is needed now, not tomorrow.
Climate change is also a pressing global public health issue. We are already beginning to see increasing numbers of patients, old and young, presenting with health conditions that have been exacerbated by air pollution, such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia. The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change reported last year the frightening consequences on the health of future generations of unchecked global warming and extreme environmental change.
As doctors we have a vital role to play. We can communicate the health-related impacts of climate change and advocate for the positive health benefits of policies that encourage a greener, more active way of life.
Last year BMA members gave their overwhelming support for us to lobby on climate action. Motions proposed by concerned members at a local level led to the BMA declaring a climate emergency at the annual representative meeting in Belfast. We took this to the World Medical Association General Assembly, and gained support for it globally. We are now collaborating with stakeholders and partners, at home and in the international medical community, to make sure the issue and the health concerns remain high on the agenda.
As part of this, I will be representing the BMA as high-level strategic advisor to the new citizens’ assembly on climate change.
Citizens’ assemblies bring members of the public together to discuss high-profile, complex or contentious issues in depth. The aim is to get the views of ordinary people and suggest workable solutions to guide government policy.
Climate Assembly UK was commissioned by six cross-party House of Commons select committees in summer 2019, following the UK’s commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Invitation letters were sent out to 30,000 members of the public and 110 people will be selected to be assembly members. Over four weekends they will hear expert evidence on the different aspects of the debate, and will look at the options for how the Government can reach its 2050 net-zero target.
2020 is a pivotal year in the fight against climate change. With Glasgow hosting the 26th UN Climate Change conference in November it is also the perfect time for the UK to show bold leadership in tackling the climate crisis, both nationally and internationally.
Achieving net-zero will require significant changes to the way we all live. It is essential that the public has its say in the debate over what policies should be introduced, and I’m pleased to be supporting this vital initiative.
Helena McKeown is chair of the BMA's representative body
Learn more about the Climate Assembly UK advisers
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