Climate change is a health issue. As the globe becomes warmer and the climate alters, it negatively affects social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. With the projection of an additional 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress between 2030 and 2050 (WHO 2018), there is no doubt that mitigating climate change is a health priority. A recent report revealed that if Australia meets our Paris Agreement goals in the next two decades we have a high chance of the reducing the negative effects of climate change and thus creating a healthier world.
But as nurses, what can we do?
To answer this question, in September, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) released a position statement on Nurses, climate change and health. ICN CEO Dr Isabelle Skinner said “As the global voice of nursing, ICN’s position is that nurses have a shared responsibility to sustain and protect the natural environment from depletion, pollution, degradation and destruction.”
The ICN position statement lists multiple ways that individual nurses should contribute to the cause. Whatever your role is, you have the power to contribute.
“ICN calls on individual nurses in their role as clinicians, educators, researchers, policy influencers or executives, to:
- Advocate for policies that promote the reduction of healthcare waste and ensure correct waste management.
- Actively engage in environmental health committees and policy-making that focus on the safety and protection of health workers and the management and regulation of the healthcare environment.
- Empower individuals, families and communities to make healthy lifestyle choices and change own practices (i.e. active transportation, use green energy, dietary changes) to decrease the contribution to [greenhouse gases] GHGs.
- Engage with other sectors to support strategies that lower GHGs such as urban redesign, enhanced public transportation and modifying indoor technologies (i.e. cookstoves) to reduce emissions.
- Work with communities to build resilience to the impacts of climate change in a way that is driven by the local context and needs and that goes beyond reactivity but seeks to address underlying vulnerabilities. Strategies include vulnerability assessments to develop resilience plans, incorporating uncertainty in resilience planning, including poor and socially excluded groups into decision-making, scaling successful adaption interventions, and monitoring and evaluation.”
ACN also recognises that nurses should play a positive role in mitigating the effects of climate change and in December 2017, we released our own position statement called Climate and the nursing profession. We know that nurses are formidable leaders in the community and that ignoring the issue is not an option. We also have a Climate & Health Community of Interest, where interested ACN Fellows and Members join together to discuss climate and health matters. If this is an interest or passion of yours, be sure to sign up on neo.
Another fantastic resource that we endorse is the Our Climate Our Health website, a health-sector led campaign for a National Strategy on Climate, Health and Well-being for Australia, coordinated by the Climate and Health Alliance. The website hosts a wealth of information on how you can become more involved in bringing positive change in relation to the health impacts of climate change.
So if you are daunted – start small, choose one or two actions you will take. Do some research or start conversations about decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Question past practices and implement new strategies in your own workplace, home or community. Reduce the amount of waste you produce. Join a committee, share your knowledge.
Step-by-step we can create a better future, with nurses leading the way.