Climate change and sustainability

In September 2019, the RCGP formally acknowledged the climate crisis and the catastrophic effect on human health of not acting decisively and urgently on climate change. The College accepted its duty to provide leadership and urgently escalate its action at local, regional, and national level to decarbonise and promote environmental sustainability.

The RCGP is also a signatory to the São Paulo Declaration and a member of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (please see more detail below).

The College undertakes work relating to climate change and sustainability in three areas:

  1. Supporting GPs and practices to improve their sustainability and reduce emissions.
  2. Lobbying governments and decision-makers to deliver change.
  3. Taking direct action as a property owner, landlord, employer and purchaser.

The RCGP Climate and Sustainability Faculty Leads Group is involved in much of the College’s work in this area.

1. Supporting GPs and practices to improve their sustainability and reduce emissions

Primary care 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 RCGP launched its Net Zero Hub at the end of January 2023. The hub offers assistance to practices in assessing their carbon footprint and developing an action plan to reduce their emissions.

The Hub has produced new eLearning material to support practices in understanding their carbon emissions: ‘Understanding non-clinical carbon and general practice’.

The hub has been developed in collaboration with Greener NHS.

The RCGP's Green Impact for Health (GIFH) Toolkit & Awards

The Green Impact for Health Toolkit was developed by the RCGP in 2014 using the Green Impact web platform developed by Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS). The toolkit aims to answer the question, “What can I do in my practice?”. It lists over 100 actions practices can take to improve their environmental sustainability and quality and tips for making the change. Over 1400 practices across the UK currently use it.

In February 2023, SOS launched a new web platform for the toolkit. Existing users should look to transfer their information to the new platform, which will close for any new entries at the end of February 2023. More information on the transition can be found on the Green Impact website.

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 new topic guide expands on the previous guide related to population health to include reference to planetary ecosystems. The guide contains tips and advice for learning, assessment and continuing professional development, including guidance on the knowledge relevant to this area of general practice.

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 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.

Other resources

2. Lobbying governments and decision-makers to deliver change

Estimates of general practice’s carbon footprint suggest that approximately 60% is associated with prescribing. In June 2022, RCGP Scotland published a joint statement with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties on reducing the environmental impact of prescribing. Read the joint statement on prescribing (PDF file, 244 KB).

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. You can read more about the work UKHACC do on their website.

The college is proud to have supported and contributed to the following recent advocacy actions:

3. At RCGP: as a property owner, landlord, employer, and purchaser

Almost half of the RCGP emissions baseline comes from business travel. Other sources of emissions are energy use at 30 Euston Square and its other rented premises.

In June 2022, the Planning and Resources Committee considered a paper reporting on the College's carbon emissions and ongoing work to reduce these. An energy audit has been carried out at 30 Euston Square, and an initial report has been commissioned on an approach to net zero. Further work is needed to identify if and how further reductions are possible and the level of investment required to achieve this.

Other groups and organisations

UK Health Alliance for Climate Change (UKHACC), of which the RCGP is a founding member. It brings together almost a million doctors, nurses and other health professionals in 34 organisations to advocate for responses to climate change that protect and promote public health. The Alliance coordinates action, provides leadership and helps amplify the voices of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals across the UK.

Greener NHS is the successor to the Sustainable Development Unit. It is working to achieve the NHS target of becoming a net zero carbon health service by 2040. See Delivering a Net Zero Health Service.

Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH) is a charity based in Oxford working on sustainable healthcare in research and practice. It provides strategic input and consultancy to national and local programmes. There is a network for Primary Care with lots of resources and a forum for discussion.

World Organisation of Family Doctors (WONCA) Working Party on the Environment promotes family doctors' roles in protecting health from environmental hazards and degradation, and building sustainable communities. New members are welcome to join.

Planetary Health Alliance is a consortium of over 300 dedicated universities, NGOs, government entities, research institutes, and other global partners committed to advancing planetary health

Health Declares is a group of health professionals across the UK who are committed to acting and advocating to protect planetary and human health.

Health Care Without Harm is a network of hospitals, healthcare leaders, and healthcare professionals across Europe with the shared goal of creating a sustainable healthcare sector.