February 14, 2022

Press release: Medical leaders urge ministers to end UK’s dependence on fossil fuels

Today, health professionals from across the UK have handed in a letter to the Prime Minister urging the government to end the country’s dependence on oil and gas to tackle the climate crisis and fuel poverty, calling for a clean, affordable energy future for everyone. 

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:

Press release

Medical professionals in the UK are urging the government to end the country’s dependence on fossil fuels to tackle the climate crisis and fuel poverty, citing the health impacts of both, and to deliver a clean, affordable energy future for everyone, 

The UK’s leading medical institutions are calling for an immediate end to new North Sea oil and gas licences, which the government is currently consulting on (1), and an equitable energy transition to renewables. The letter is signed by the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Paediatricians, Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and Psychiatrists, as well as over 600 individual health professionals.

The joint letter to the Prime Minister, says: “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 and UNEP on how we can meet 1.5 degrees”.(2)

“The country is facing two crises with the same underlying cause: the UK’s continued reliance on expensive and polluting fossil fuels for its energy supply.” They write that, “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”. The letter notes that energy poverty, driven by rising bills, will lead to worsening health and increased winter deaths and call for emergency support to help vulnerable households.

Dr Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians said: “'It seems utterly wrong that at a time when the role of fossil fuels in climate change is better understood than ever, that anyone should think that drilling for oil is a good thing. The climate change we are witnessing is on a scale that is already harming health and will only get worse. Any short term profits will soon be forgotten by everyone living with the consequences.”

Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “We must move away from our dependence on harmful fossil fuel-based energy by rejecting proposals for new oil and gas fields, and instead focus on developing sustainable, renewable and affordable alternatives that will keep us and our planet healthy. Not only will this benefit the nation’s mental and physical health, but it also informs an effort to ensure that the cost-of-living crisis we are currently experiencing becomes a thing of the past. We urge the Government to curtail activities, which we know are contributing to the climate and ecological emergencies. Without this action our mental health, both in the UK and worldwide, remains threatened. Finally, we urge the Government to take immediate steps towards helping families struggling to pay their bills as fuel poverty and debt can have devastating impacts on people's mental health."

Mark Hayden, Paediatric Cardiac Intensivist at Great Ormond Street Hospital said: “People in the UK are now being pushed into poverty because of our over reliance on fossil fuels. The government must stop locking us into this expensive, polluting fuel by handing out even more licences, which it knows will lead to dangerous climate change, when it should be directing that investment into cheap, clean renewable energy. The health benefits of transitioning away from unaffordable fossil fuels are innumerable but the government must act to make them happen.”

Elaine Mulcahy, Director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change: "Over the last twelve months, the global health community has made a number of calls to the government to take urgent action for global warming to be limited to 1.5C and for human health and equity to be central to all climate change mitigation and adaptation actions. This includes action to deliver a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels and to shift financing into the development of clean energy."  

As well as an immediate end to the issuing of new licences, the medics are also calling on the government to: categorically reject the Cambo oil field, which was put on hold last month following protests; provide emergency support for people facing fuel poverty; end subsidies for oil and gas extraction and redirect funds to green industry; make a plan to deliver a managed and equitable UK energy transition in line with 1.5C; and an end to the policy of Maximum Economic Recovery (MER) for the North Sea.

For more information
Tamasin Cave: tamasin@upliftuk.org; 07973 424 015

TJ (Medact): tjchuah@medact.org; 07851 325 817

Notes to editors

(1) The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is consulting on a new measure that would allow licensing of new UK oil and gas fields. New licences would be subject to a ‘climate compatibility checkpoint’ to determine if a development is in line with the UK’s climate commitments. It is widely seen as an unserious attempt to legitimise new drilling that runs counter to climate science.

(2) The International Energy Agency has said there can be no new oil and gas developments if we are to limit global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees. The UN Secretary General has said that the latest report from the IPCC “must sound a death knell” for fossil fuels and that countries should “end all new fossil fuel exploration and production”. Approving new North Sea oil and gas fields is inconsistent with the science, according to leading climate scientists.