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St George’s joins 'Health Declares’ Climate Emergency Declaration

Published: 08 November 2021

St George’s recently joined the `Health Declares’ Climate Emergency Declaration in advance of COP 26 – the UN Climate Change Conference being hosted in Glasgow. Professor Peter Whincup, of the Population Health Research Institute, leads the Environmental Working Group at St George’s. Peter explains more about the working group, how you can get involved, and the significance of St George’s joining the Climate Emergency Declaration. 

Peter explains, “St George’s Environmental Working Group was formed in late 2019, it seeks to identify opportunities across the university to make improvements in environmental sustainability, as well as stimulate wider discussion on ownership of environmental issues.     

“The group currently includes about 20 St George’s staff and students from across the university. It has been challenging to progress initiatives during the pandemic but, as leader of the group, I have been involved in successful negotiations to provide renewably sourced electricity to Horton Halls, taken part in discussions around introducing sustainable investment at St George’s, and have supported students in their efforts to reduce plastic use in the Students’ Union bar.      

“Recently, with the support of our Principal, Professor Jenny Higham, St George’s has joined the `Health Declares’ Climate Emergency Declaration alongside other UK Medical Schools including Cambridge, Oxford, UCL and Keele in advance of the COP26 conference. The Declaration signals a collective recognition of the threat that climate change represents to the lives and the health of people both in the UK and across our planet. It emphasises the need for rapid, decisive action by governments, organizations and individuals to reduce the threat of climate change, particularly by accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy use.    

“As signatories to the Declaration, we are encouraged to divest from fossil fuels (which is already under discussion), consider how to operate more sustainably as an organization and how to integrate teaching on health and climate change into the medical curriculum.  All these issues will be important priorities moving forward.”  

On 20 October, Universities UK launched a set of sector-wide policy positions on the climate emergency, with a lead commitment to support government aims to reduce carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, and achieve net zero by 2050. 

On the responsibilities of the Higher Education sector, Peter adds, “I think the climate emergency is environmental issues are an increasing focus of attention across civil society. Universities, like many other organizations, have a responsibility to respond to the urgent environmental challenges we all face. Universities can show leadership, work with others, help to address local and wider problems and share solutions which will help others. Only by sharing ideas and expertise, and involving both our staff and students, can we hope to make progress on these crucial challenges.” 

Ananya Sood is an international medicine student at St George’s and also a member of the Environmental Working Group. 

Ananya says, “I became involved with the Environmental Working Group in 2020 during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic - much of the world has changed since. This year with a new Environmental society starting at St George's, and a second annual Planetary Health Report card, there is much room to make St George's Hospital and University more environmentally friendly.

“St George's signing the Climate Emergency Declaration means that as a healthcare institution we recognise the importance of taking a firm stance on climate change. This is the first step towards raising awareness and encouraging members of our community to turn our ideas into action, to carry the momentum from COP26 forwards.

“I would encourage students from all courses and year groups to take part in environmental initiatives to create long-lasting sustainable change. The action taken today, with the collaboration of ambitious staff and students, will have a lasting impact for the years to come.

“The new Environmental society continues to grow, the committee is working to separate out into different branches to get started on local projects. The road ahead looks promising and we all have a role to work together to make positive, sustainable change!”

If you would like to join St George’s Environmental Working Group, please email Peter.  

If you would like to find out more about the Environmental society, please email Ananya

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