Jan 29 2008
Climate Change and Health
By Tom Burke
Article Published in
Email this Article
Article hits (4602)
The Royal College of Physicians hosted a major conference on the theme of ‘Climate change and its impact on health’ on the 29th January 2008.
E3G Founding Director Tom Burke gave the opening speech, which is follows below. It is also attached here for download as a pdf, as is the event agenda.
Climate Change and Health
Address to the Royal College of Physicians by Tom Burke CBE
London, January 29th 2008
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you today. It is often said that climate change is the most serious problem facing humanity in the 21st Century. This is not an exaggeration as I and the other speakers will be making clear during the course of today.
My task this morning is simply to set the scene, to layout the landscape of how climate change and health interact and to say something about the role the medical professions might play in helping the world tackle this problem.
Climate change conferences are occurring with increasing frequency at the moment but I think this one is particularly important for a number of reasons. Perhaps most significantly because its focus is on what a rapidly changing climate means for human beings.
You could be forgiven watching recent media coverage of this issue for thinking that climate change was really bad for polar bears but was not yet something that should concern most of us very much. All too often the language we use and the effects we highlight make this issue sound remote from the everyday concerns of most people.
The public is largely unaware that climate change is already having some damaging effects on human health and that we are seeing today only the very earliest signs of what is to come.
Furthermore, investing the authority of this distinguished institution in articulating the link between climate change and the daily lives of ordinary people sends a powerful signal to politicians and public alike.
The medical professions have, in some ways, an unenviable task in human affairs. All too often, it is to you that we turn first to deal with the human consequences of policy failure. It is to you that we look to repair the damages of our ignorance and lack of foresight or self-discipline both as individuals and as a society.
The consequences of policy failure on climate change will fall very immediately on the medical professions and they will be on a scale unlike anything humanity has seen before. What is at stake is not just the health of very large numbers of human beings, but, potentially in many parts of the world, the integrity and capability of the whole infrastructure that supports health.
The medical professions also have something few other actors in this debate possess in such measure – public trust. Success in tackling this problem is going to require a mobilisation of human effort and resources of an unparalleled magnitude.
The addition of your trusted voice to that mobilisation effort adds to our chances of success. So, I was particularly pleased to see you have a session this afternoon devoted specifically to addressing that question.