Climate change and sustainability
Responding to the climate emergency is a strategic priority for the College, as we recognise the inextricable link between human and planetary health.
The impacts of climate change pose a threat not only to our planet, but to our health and the NHS too. Therefore, we are committed to providing leadership in the decarbonisation of general practice, and across our own organisation.
We are responding to climate change at three levels:
What are the health impacts of climate change?
Human health is inextricably linked to planetary health. Much of what contributes to climate change also contributes to ill health and health inequalities, such as air pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels. This is why RCGP have a strategic priority to respond to the climate emergency.
More frequent and intense heatwaves, flooding and storms all pose a threat to our health and wellbeing, including heat-related illness, stress and injury, particularly to those that are more vulnerable. Climate change is also facilitating the increase of diseases, like Lyme Disease.
Changes to the climate
- Higher temperatures
- Rising sea levels
- More extreme weather
- Ocean acidification
Effects of climate change
- Biodiversity loss
- Increased water scarcity
- Food insecurity
- Infrastructure damage
Health impacts of climate change
- Heat-related illness
- Mental health, such as climate anxiety
- Injuries or mortality from extreme weather events
- Pressure on the NHS
- Respiratory illness
1. Supporting GPs and practices to improve their sustainability and reduce emissions
GPs are well placed to advocate for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Much of what we already think of as good practice are clear examples of sustainable healthcare. Examples include championing wellness through preventative measures which reduce the incidence or progression of ill health, alongside reducing over-prescribing.
Primary care currently accounts for approximately 23% of NHS England’s emissions footprint or 0.9% of the UK’s total emissions (Lancet journal). The majority of primary care emissions are associated with prescribing. These are predominantly through the emissions related to the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and chemicals and emissions from anaesthetic gases and metred dose inhalers.
The College has a number of new and ongoing pieces of work to support practices in the actions they can take to reduce emissions and move towards more sustainable primary care.
The RCGP Net Zero Hub
The Net Zero Hub was launched in 2023 with Greener NHS. The Hub offers multiple e-learning modules and trained advisers are available to work directly with practice staff to support them to develop an action plan.
The RCGP's Green Impact for Health (GIFH) Toolkit & Awards
The Green Impact for Health Toolkit lists over 100 actions that practices can take to improve their environmental sustainability, with the opportunity to aim towards a bronze, silver or gold award. Over 1,400 practices currently use it.
Planetary Health in the RCGP curriculum
In 2022, the RCGP developed a new professional topic guide for the RCGP curriculum on Population and Planetary Health. The guide contains advice for learning, assessment and continuing professional development.
The Greener Practice Network
The RCGP works closely with Greener Practice, a community interest company (CIC) and the national network for those working in general practice to raise awareness of the health benefits of climate action and to support practical action in primary care.
Greener Practice is comprised of over 30 local groups operating across the UK and a number of special interest groups that run through WhatsApp. Their website provides information, resources, webinars, and practical tools for practices that wish to become greener. Email email@example.com if you would like to join a special interest group, link to a local group, or set up your own local group.
As part of the ongoing collaboration between the RCGP and Greener Practice, one of the leadership team in the RCGP Climate and Sustainability Faculty Leads Group is from Greener Practice.
The RCGP Net Zero Consultancy service
The College has developed a service to provide practices guidance and support around identifying and reducing their carbon footprint. The RCGP Net Zero consultancy service provides practices with a roadmap - specifically a carbon reduction plan with realistic, measurable actions to put in place to work towards meeting the NHS targets; and to keep them on track to achieve this.
The service matches a practice with a trained adviser who will work closely with the team to develop a decarbonisation plan. The plan will include a baseline assessment of the practice’s current carbon use and emissions; agreed reduction targets, and a prioritised list of actions the practice can take as they work towards reducing their impact on the environment.
2. Lobbying governments and decision-makers to deliver change
The RCGP is a founding member of the UK Health Alliance for Climate Change (UKHACC), which works to raise awareness, empower people and influence change related to the links between health and climate change. We're also proud to have supported and contributed to many recent advocacy actions.
3. Taking action at the RCGP
RCGP is committed to taking action on climate change as a property owner, landlord, employer and purchaser. RCGP has a dedicated Sustainability Lead, but every directorate is embedding action on climate change to reduce emissions and build resilience.
The College has been delivering multiple actions to reduce emissions:
- The RCGP 30 Euston Square site purchases 100% Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGOs)
- Establishment of Climate and Sustainability Faculty Leads
- Establishment of a delivery group across the College
Our planned pipeline of activity includes:
- Developing a Heat Decarbonisation Plan for 30 Euston Square, which will enable the establishment of a net zero target and a feasible programme of works for the listed building.
- Creation of a framework for embedding sustainability within the delivery of events and conferences.
- Embedding sustainability guidelines within procurement.
- Enhancing communication on climate change to staff and members.
RCGP’s carbon emissions
We conduct Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) annually, to be transparent about the College’s carbon emissions. Our carbon emissions have been measured since the baseline year 2019-20. This includes scope 1 and 2, plus scope 3 emissions including business travel, hotel stays during business trips and homeworking emissions.
Over half of the carbon emissions came from heating the buildings in 2022-23, followed by electricity use.