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Health professionals working together for our planet

Published: 03.11.2021
Elise Moo The Fred Hollows Foundation
Gerhard Schlenther RANZCO

In November, the UK hosts the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, bringing world leaders together to tackle climate change.

The UK is aiming to secure a global plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, and more ambitious interim targets by 2030. It could be the moment we turn climate change around and prevent catastrophic global warming of more than 1.5°C this century. Failure to do so will exacerbate rapidly deteriorating environmental conditions around the world and intensify natural disasters, with those most vulnerable and disadvantaged the worst affected.

The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change has released its 2021 report to coincide with COP 26, highlighting worsening health outcomes in a rapidly warming world.[1]  Extreme heat-related health impacts, food and water insecurity, infectious disease transmissions, and pressure to provide emergency care during natural disasters are deepening inequities in health care and sustainable development outcomes. As the IAPB’s Climate Action Working Group (CAWG) has warned, the eye health sector is not immune from the impacts of climate change or the responsibility to improve environmental sustainability in our sector.

Health professionals worldwide are already responding to the health harms caused by climate change[2]. In the lead up to this pivotal event Australian organisations working in the eye health sector have found meaningful ways to mobilise and support action on climate change.

In September the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) co-signed an open letter from the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, along with nine other Australian specialist medical colleges, publicly calling for significant emission reductions this decade to protect health. The breadth of Australian media interest and coverage demonstrated the power of such a letter. Print articles in the Canberra Times, the Conversation, the Australian, and the ABC all highlighted the letter’s clear warning of the health impacts of climate change, along with segments on ABC radio and ABC News Breakfast.

RANZCO also participated in a joint webinar organised by the AMA and DEA showcasing climate change and sustainability leadership and action in the health sector. The Climate change and sustainability: leadership and action from Australian doctors– event brought 13 medical colleges together sharing their activities and plans. One of RANZCO’s key activities is developing preferred practice guidelines to reduce waste during surgeries and improving organisational sustainability.

Adaptation to climate change will increasingly require health professionals to steer changes in clinical pathways, develop appropriate clinical standards and provide education to peers and the community.

[1] Romanello, M., McGushin, A., Di Napoli, C., Drummond, P., Hughes, N., Jamart, L., . . . Hamilton, I. The 2021 report of the <em>Lancet</em> Countdown on health and climate change: code red for a healthy future. The Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01787-6

[2] COP26 special report on climate change and health: the health argument for climate action. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2021. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.