February 14, 2022

Health letter: Medical leaders urge ministers to end UK’s dependence on fossil fuels

The letter is signed by the British Medical Association, the Faculty of Public Health, the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Paediatricians, Obstetricians and Gynaeocologists and Psychiatrists, as well as over 600 individual health professionals. 

These UK’s leading medical institutions, with a combined membership of over 250,000 health workers, are calling for an the UK government to:

The letter

The UK is in the middle of an energy and climate crisis. Millions of UK households face real energy poverty, whilst the impacts of climate change are already affecting the country. Meanwhile, the government is considering approval for 30 new offshore oil & gas fields, such as the Cambo Oil field, in contradiction to the recommendations by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and UNEP on how we can meet 1.5 degrees.

The country is facing these two crises with the same underlying cause: the UK’s continued reliance on expensive and polluting fossil fuels for its energy supply. Emergency support is needed to help vulnerable households deal with the increase in energy bills. This could see as many as 6 million households driven into fuel poverty, which will lead to worsening health and increased winter deaths. 

We urge your government to respond to these dual crises with policies to end dependence on fossil fuels and ensure a clean, affordable energy future for everyone. We are writing to you now, representing health professionals across the UK, to call on the UK Government to reject the approval for the Cambo field; and that you take the opportunity to align UK oil and gas policy with limiting warming to 1.5C, as outlined in the Paris Agreement. As healthcare professionals, we know that any new fossil fuel projects and their contribution to climate change constitute a grave threat to our patients and the resilience of our healthcare system. We urge you to do all in your power to mitigate this health crisis.

The climate crisis presents the greatest public health threat of our time, and the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated to us all how vital and fundamental health, wellbeing and medicine are to a functioning and fulfilled society. Climate change and the directly related extraction and combustion of fossil fuels is already affecting the health of millions of people across the world. In the UK, health professionals have witnessed a rise in admissions and deaths from heat exhaustion, the significant and traumatic mental health impacts of flooding, and over 40,000 early deaths per year caused by outdoor air pollution from burning fossil fuels [1]. Meanwhile, health professionals across the world are fighting the health impacts of the fires in Greece and North America, the floods in Germany and the famine in Madagascar.

In the coming decades, the health and lives of billions of people will be threatened by increasing temperatures, extreme weather events, food insecurity and the spread of infectious diseases that place even more strain on health systems and patient resilience. Most concerning is the fact that those least responsible for contributing to climate change, both in the UK and abroad, are the ones on the front line of the climate crisis. As with the gas price crisis, climate change is already hitting those the poorest and most vulnerable patients first. This dynamic will only worsen as warming increases. 

Approval of new oil & gas projects like Cambo would contradict the recommendations of both UNEP and the International Energy Agency (IEA) on how we can meet 1.5C. The IEA report - which was commissioned by Alok Sharma as the COP26 President - reinforces this message, making clear that investment in new oil and gas fields must end this year to be on track. The U.N Secretary-General António Guterres called the IPCC’s recent Working Group 1 Climate Report a “code red for humanity.” He said it must “sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet."

At 2°C warming, an estimated additional 61 million people will die than if we limit warming to 1.5C [2].

Over 200 health journals around the world have published an editorial warning of the catastrophic harms to health from the failure to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C and to restore nature (3). As medical professionals, we cannot stand silent while we approach this dangerous threshold.

Globally, more than 300 organisations representing at least 45 million nurses, doctors and health professionals worldwide – about three quarters of the global health workforce – have signed an open letter to the 197 government leaders and national delegations ahead of COP26 calling on world leaders to deliver on climate action (4). The letter, which is signed by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, calls on "all nations to deliver a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels, starting with immediately cutting all related permits, subsidies and financing for fossil fuels, and to completely shift current financing into development of clean energy". We urge you to implement this in the UK, starting with rejection of the Cambo Field.

The development of new oil & gas projects like Cambo  is inconsistent with our 1.5C target and a healthy world. As representatives of the UK health community, we call on the Government to safeguard the the health of our current and future patients by taking the following actions:

The UK has an opportunity to lead the way on a managed phase-out of its domestic supply and address the worst health crisis of our time. The health benefits of transitioning away from unaffordable fossil fuels to green jobs, sustainable transport, retrofitted homes are innumerable - but the government must act to make them happen.

We urge you to listen to the IPCC, the UN Secretary-General and the World Health Organisation. The health emergency is already here. Now is the time for decisive action.

We are copying this letter to Alok Sharma, the President of COP26, and to Kwasi Kwarteng and Greg Hands, the responsible Ministers at BEIS.

Yours sincerely,

Action for Global Health 

British Medical Association

Doctors in Unite

Faculty of Public Health

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Royal College of Physicians

Royal College of Psychiatrists 

UK Health Alliance on Climate Change

Cambridge Clinical Students Society (ClinSoc)

Doctors for Extinction Rebellion

Cornwall Climate Care

SEE Sustainability

Earth Resus Team UoB

Eco Medics


Gloucester Greener Practice RCGP

Green Health Wales

Greener Anaesthesia & Sustainability Project GASP

Greener Practice Gloucestershire

Greener Practice National

Health Declares a Climate Emergency

Healthy Planet Sheffield

Leeds Healthcare Students for Climate Action



Race & Health 

Socialist Health Association London branch

Students for Global Health

Students for global health glasgow

The Medical Group

The People's Health Movement UK

Zero Carbon Mordens

And over 600 individual health workers