Healthcare sustainability and climate change

The RCP is campaigning to make sure UK climate and sustainability policy protects population health.

'We will make the case for ambitious government action to tackle climate change, recognising that it is the biggest long-term threat to health in the UK and globally. We will use our insight and expertise to support the NHS to deliver its net zero commitments. We will promote behaviour change – for example in terms of travel and fuels burnt at home – which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improves public health, and will continue to campaign for better air quality across the UK. We will improve the knowledge of healthcare professionals about the health impacts of climate change.'

Agreed at RCP Council, 2022.

Climate change represents the biggest long-term threat to human health

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects an excess of 250,000 deaths per year by 2050 attributable to climate change due to heat, undernutrition, malaria and diarrheal disease, with more than half of this excess mortality projected for Africa. The record temperatures experienced throughout 2023 are a reminder that while the impacts of climate change are not felt equally, they are happening now around the world. The NHS aims to become the world’s first net zero health service and has set targets to achieve this, including reaching net zero in the emissions it controls directly by 2040.

What is the RCP doing?

In 2022, following consultation with our members, the RCP formally adopted sustainability and climate change as one of its four policy and campaigns priorities for the first time.
An RCP advisory group on sustainable healthcare and climate change was established in 2023 to look at what more can be done in the health service – and by medicine in particular – to improve healthcare sustainability.
The RCP has also appointed a special adviser and deputy special adviser on sustainability who will look to support RCP-wide efforts to make medicine more sustainable, serving as its spokesperson on the issue, advising on the design and delivery of our sustainability work and supporting the sustainability in healthcare and climate change advisory group.

Share your case studies

We know there is already a lot of great work happening across the system to improve the sustainability of healthcare, and we want to showcase these examples. If you, or anyone you know, has been involved in work in this space, we’d love to hear from you.

Submit your case study
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What is the RCP calling for?

The RCP launched a report on healthcare sustainability and climate change in March 2023 which

  • Called on the government to:
    • Prioritise a just transition from fossil fuels, redirecting all funding and subsidies to renewable energy sources and technologies and implement complementary policy initiatives to ensure this process does not exacerbate health inequalities.  
    • Put prevention at the heart of health and wider government policy, recognising that reducing avoidable ill health and demand for healthcare will require cross-government action and has environmental, health and economic benefits.
  • Called on the NHS to:
    • Prioritise initiatives to reduce the environmental impact of healthcare delivery within the NHS must be appropriately funded, including capital investment where necessary.
    • Recognise the link between climate change mitigation and improved health outcomes, and for this to be leveraged by NHS bodies and systems in national, regional and local health inequalities work. 
      Update the NHS constitution to include the net zero targets.

Key resources



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The RCP writes to Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb regarding the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has written to Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb ahead of the second reading of her Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill to provide a summary of RCP research on air quality.

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The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: Policy brief for the UK

The RCP is one of a number of organisations supporting a new policy brief on health and climate change which has been published today.

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Clean Air Day 2022

Clean Air Day is the UK’s largest air pollution campaign, bringing together communities, businesses, schools and the health sector. In 2022, the RCP is doing a number of things to improve knowledge of the impact of air pollution on health.

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RCP response to the government consultation on air quality targets under the Environment Act 2021

The RCP has responded to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ consultation on environmental targets calling for more ambition to reduce levels of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5.

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Communicating the adverse effects of air pollution on health: progress report

In 2021 the RCP responded to the Inner South London assistant coroner’s report to prevent future deaths following the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. Since then we have taken action and report here on progress.

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Brexit: What does it mean for air quality?

Brexit: What does it mean for air quality? is part of a series of briefings produced by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) outlining key statistics on topics surrounding Brexit negotiations and beyond.

UK Health Alliance on Climate Change

As a founding member of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, the RCP has been vocal about the health impacts of climate change. UKHACC seeks to empower the health profession to advocate for better responses to climate change, to engage decision makers to strengthen relevant policies and to raise awareness of the links between health and climate change.

Find out more
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