The RCN has restated its commitment to tackling climate change and urged the government to treat climate change as a health emergency to coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference 2021.
According to the RCN, climate change is a health emergency, it undermines the foundations of good health and deepens inequalities for the world’s most vulnerable communities. Nursing staff have a duty to protect and improve public health. As trusted figures, health professionals worldwide can be key players in the fight against climate change, influencing public and political action. At RCN Congress 2019, an emergency resolution on the state of the climate led to the College backing stronger action to tackle this building health crisis.
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‘As leaders from across the world gather in Glasgow, nursing staff want them to treat climate change as the emergency it is,’ said RCN President Dr Denise Chaffer.
‘Our duty, as nursing staff, is to protect and promote public health in the face of the threats posed by climate change but we can’t do this alone. We have taken strides in making our workplaces more sustainable through our Glove Awareness campaign, reduction of waste, and other strategies.’
Health care is a major contributor to climate change because of its significant carbon footprint. It is responsible for 4-5% of global greenhouse gases globally. In the UK, the NHS creates 6.3% of England’s carbon emissions. Changes made within health care can have a significant impact on the pace of climate change.
The RCN has already taken action to improve the sustainability of nursing. Reducing unnecessary waste and single-use items is one way that nursing staff can help the profession be more sustainable. During the RCN’s annual Glove Awareness Week in May 2021, members were invited to “make one change” to safely reduce the use of disposable gloves. With millions of gloves used in health and care every year this could make a vital contribution to sustainability.
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‘However, with unsustainable pressure on health and care services caused by chronic staffing shortages, our members are anxious their work could be for nothing without urgent action,’ added Dr Chaffer.
‘The UK Government can show the world it is taking climate change seriously by pledging more than just tackling the causes of global warming. It must also commit to investing in public health, as well as our health and care services, to strengthen our healthcare workforce as the consequences of climate change are already negatively affecting on our population’s health.’