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Increasing momentum for climate and health championed by COP28 and pharmacy bodies

In what the World Health Organization (WHO) has called an ‘historic milestone‘, a new ‘Declaration on Climate and Health’ was announced at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28).

Unveiled by the COP28 Presidency, in partnership with the WHO and the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, the Declaration is set to ‘accelerate actions to protect people’s health from growing climate impacts‘ and is signed by 123 countries.

It outlines a range of actions around climate and health, including building more climate-resilient health systems, strengthening cross-sectoral collaboration to reduce emissions, and increasing finance for climate and health solutions.

The Declaration was just one of the new initiatives from COP28 aimed at driving rapid decarbonisation to reduce emissions by at least 43% over the next seven years to keep the 1.5°C climate benchmark within reach.

Signatories of the Declaration have also committed to incorporate health targets in their national climate plans and to improve international collaboration to address the health risks of climate change.

Recognising that finance will be a significant driver of the Declaration’s success, the COP28 Presidency has also joined with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the Green Climate Fund; The Rockefeller Foundation; and the WHO to bolster financing for climate and health, mobilise new and additional finance, and foster innovation with transformative projects and new multisector approaches.

Alongside this, COP28 saw finance announcements made by stakeholders including governments, development banks, multilateral institutions, philanthropies and non-governmental organisations to expand their investments in climate and health solutions.

In a statement, the COP28 Presidency said these partners have collectively ‘committed to dedicate $1bn to address the growing needs of the climate-health crisis‘.

This includes ‘up to £18m‘ from the UK ‘to support partner countries to assess vulnerability, identify priority actions and support planning… to better cope with the impacts of climate change‘.

This is ‘the first such climate-health programme announced by a G7 country‘.

Pharmacy and climate change

Following the signing of the COP28 Declaration, Paul Sinclair, global president of the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), said: ‘Addressing climate change will require action from heads of government, ministers, business leaders across sectors, communities and individuals.

‘FIP hopes that the climate and health Declaration will increase momentum in both the public and private sectors but, as health professionals, we each have a big stake in this and a big role to play.‘

Pharmacists‘ Defence Association (PDA) director Paul Day added: ‘Increasingly, pharmacists are considering the climate impact of their own practice alongside the wider impact of society on sustainability and the potential consequences for health.

‘The PDA supports achieving a cleaner environment, more affordable energy, smarter transport, new jobs, and an overall better quality of life for the world and these are the objectives of a green transition. The PDA also recognise that the sum of each local action, no matter how small, can add up to make a global difference.‘

Raising awareness of the vital importance of environmental sustainability in healthcare was also the subject of a Scottish Parliamentary reception at Holyrood last week, which was hosted by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Royal College of GPs in Scotland.

Bringing together professional leadership body representatives for prescribers across Scotland, Scottish Government, politicians, academics and clinicians, the event highlighted that medicines account for around 25% of carbon emissions across the NHS.

It also considered the various innovative ways that these emissions can be reduced if the NHS in Scotland is to meet its ambition to achieve net zero.

Sponsor of the event, Gillian Mackay MSP, who is the Scottish Greens’ spokesperson for health and social care, said: ‘The climate emergency demands a response from everyone wherever they live and in whatever sector they work. It is fantastic to witness a dedicated group of healthcare professionals working collaboratively to help the NHS to meet net zero in a patient-centred way. 

‘I look forward to continuing to work with Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Royal College of GPs in Scotland to ensure that healthcare in Scotland is as environmentally sustainable as possible.‘

Speaking about the reception, Laura Wilson, RPS director for Scotland, said: ‘It was great to be able to discuss a wide range of potential initiatives which will be hugely beneficial for the planet and also efficiency, including introducing electronic prescribing, making information on the environmental impact of medicines readily available and developing an infrastructure for green social prescribing across Scotland.‘

In October 2023, a survey of 1,304 individuals across the UK, US, Australia and France by YewMaker revealed 84% of respondents said they want healthcare to actively reduce the carbon emissions of medicines and to prioritise suppliers with a lower carbon footprint if the costs are not higher.

Some 73% of respondents felt it was important for doctors to have access to carbon footprint information when deciding which medicines to prescribe, and 53% wanted access to information about the carbon footprint of the medicines they consume themselves.

The NHS has committed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2045, making it essential to address medicine-related emissions.

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