Paediatricians and other child health professionals have been urged to engage much more vigorously in advocating for climate action and to mitigate the wide-ranging impacts on children.
A new declaration, ‘Responding to the impact of climate change on children’ has been drafted by the International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health and subsequently revised and adopted by the International Pediatric Association.
The declaration urges regional, national, and international paediatric organisations – together with multidisciplinary child health professionals, child advocates, youth, and families – to work to minimise the use of fossil fuels, decrease global carbon emissions, protect the earth’s natural resources, mitigate the impact of climate change on children, and achieve climate justice.
The statement urges child health professionals, societies, and organisations to acknowledge the global climate crisis as “an existential and universal threat to children’s health and well-being”.
The declaration comes as medical groups in Australia publish an open letter urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to lift national commitments on climate action ahead of the critical COP 26 United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow later this year.
They call for cuts to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, a national climate change and health strategy, and the establishment of a national Sustainable Healthcare Unit to support environmentally sustainable practice in healthcare.
“The health, wellbeing and prosperity of our future generations depends on it,” says the letter.
It is signed by the Australian Medical Association, Doctors for the Environment Australia, the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, the College of Intensive Care Medicine of Australia and New Zealand, the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, and the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.
Talk to communities
Meanwhile, the new declaration urges child health professionals to engage with community education on climate change, including through writing letters to the editor and advocating to politicians, and also to use the framework of anticipatory guidance for discussing climate change with families.
They should educate families and communities about strategies to maintain resilient ecosystems, protect biodiversity, cultivate inter-species justice, and advance human rights, equity, and social justice.
Child health professionals should serve as personal role models for practices that promote environmental sustainability, purchase local and recycled goods and avoid disposable products, the statement says.
They should also cut the carbon footprint associated with professional meetings by reducing flying, refuse fossil fuel industry sponsorship of paediatric meetings, end sponsorship of paediatric meetings by formula and baby food industries, and stop the commercial exploitation of children and impact of consumerism.
The declaration urges child health professionals to collaborate with health departments, academic institutions, research facilities, and activist groups to enhance surveillance, analysis, and reporting of climate-sensitive health effects on children, including the impacts on child health inequities. They also should work to strengthen disaster preparedness, especially for children and youth.
An article outlining the declaration is published in the October edition of The Journal of Climate Change and Health, with its authors coming from the United States, China, Kenya, Argentina, India, Lebanon, Spain and United Kingdom. Sydney paediatrician Dr Shanti Raman is one of the signatories.
The declaration urges child health professionals to advocate for:
- Local, national, and international policies and strategies that rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure preparedness for climate-associated extreme weather events
- Sustainable and renewable electricity-generating systems, accessible transportation, plant-based food, and equitable access to green spaces that improve the lives of children and families
- Sustainable, carbon neutral housing, and upgrading of existing housing stock as a means of reducing childhood respiratory conditions;
- Basic energy-saving strategies in homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces
- Electric vehicles “fueled” by sustainable energy sources as a means of reducing air pollution
- Principles of sustainable development
- Advancing and supporting children and young people’s ’s own advocacy and mitigation endeavors on the climate crisis
- Engaging clinical and non-clinical staff in practices, hospitals, and health systems; and children, youth, and patients’ families, as advocates, and
- Reducing the carbon and environmental footprint of health facilities by increasing energy efficiency, incorporating renewable energy sources, and reducing waste.
Wide-ranging health concerns
The declaration also calls for climate change to be included in the education of child health professionals at all levels of training and in all venues of practice.
Child health professionals should be informed about integrative and collaborative movements, such as One Health, Planetary Health, and Traditional Ecological Knowledge, which identify the root civil-political, social, economic, cultural, ecological, and philosophical causes of climate change.
The declaration outlines many ways in which climate change harms children’s health and wellbeing. It notes that “displacement, destruction of infrastructure, and conflicts arising from competition for water, food and other resources will increasingly impact children’s health, mental health, and well-being”.
The statement says that excessive exploitation of the earth’s natural resources by relentless deforestation and overfishing will affect the air quality and threaten the food security of generations to come, and that conflict is not only a consequence of climate change (competing for dwindling resources), but also a primary driver of the exploitation of natural resources for military hardware.
The new statement builds on previous declarations including the 2012 Doha Declaration on Climate, Health and Wellbeing, the 2019 Declaration of the World Association of Family Doctors, Planetary Health Alliance, Clinicians for Planetary Health Working Group, and the 2019 Helsinki Declaration. It also draws on a 2015 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Declaration is consistent with the Children in All Policies 2030 initiative launched earlier this year.
The declaration aims to explain the roles and responsibilities of paediatricians in responding to climate change, and to provide paediatricians and their professional organisations with a tool to support advocacy with country delegations and missions leading up to the COP 26 meeting.
The International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health and the International Pediatric Association are inviting other global and national paediatric societies and child health organisations to endorse and publicly support the declaration.
The Indian Academy of Pediatrics has already endorsed it, while the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the UK are preparing their own position statements on climate change and child health.
The authors conclude:
It takes a village to raise a child.
But it will take all child health professionals speaking with one unified voice to ensure that the climate crisis does not steal that child’s future.”
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