“Climate change is a medical emergency,” said professor Hugh Montgomery, director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance, in June 2015. “It thus demands an emergency response, using the technologies available right now. Under such circumstances, no doctor would consider a series of annual case discussions and aspirations adequate, yet this is exactly how the global response to climate change is proceeding.”
A year has passed since then, and the health sector, just like the general public, is still not ‘tuned in’ or taking any concrete measures to protect their patients, as well as future patients, against climate change. A few reports have been published, but they are forgotten the day after they were published, and the day-to-day medical emergencies tend to require the doctors’ full attention.
But in one specific arena, doctors around the world are now beginning to speak up and call for climate action: at annual general meetings in their own pension funds.
During the annual gatherings of delegates and executive boards, doctors step up to the podiumm and take the microphone to call for their pension funds to ‘divest’ – which means that the funds should sell all its investments in fossil fuel companies. As you will see below, in northern Europe, the medical call for divestment has grown to a level which begins to look like it could actually be the beginning of a real global divestment wave among doctors.
At first it was doctors in United Kingdom who showed the way, and now the doctors in Denmark, Sweden and Germany are following their example. The Danes and the Swedes have been successful in changing the investment policies of their pension funds.
Knowledge about this movement – the simple fact that there now are medical doctors’ pension funds out there beginning to lead the way – is important, because it helps to inspire doctors elsewhere in the world, for instance here in Australia. Nothing speaks clearer than the example of what others have already acchieved.
On the same note, any help you can offer personally to spread the word about this will be much appreciated.
The health sector plays an important role in tackling climate change. Just as doctors took a leading role against smoking in the past, doctors must bring in the fight against climate change now.
The divestment decisions in the Danish and Swedish medical doctors’ pension funds follow similar calls by numerous international and national medical organisations, including the National Medical Associations of Great Britain (BMA), Canada (CMA) and the largest Medical Association of Australia (RACP).
Leading medical journals such as The Lancet and the British Medical Journal (BMJ), respected scientific institutions and numerous medical scientists have all called for divestment from fossil fuels and that the funds released then instead is reinvested in climate and environmentally friendly companies and projects.
No fossil fuels in the Swedish pension fund investments
Lakar Tidningen, the Swedish medical doctor’s magazine, reported in May 2016 that the Swedish Medical Association now follows their British colleagues in ensuring that their pension fund’s capital is not invested in companies whose main area of business is fossil fuels.
This decision was a result of three motions concerning the pension fund’s investment policies, submitted by the District Medical Society and hospital doctors in Sweden at the fund’s general annual assembly.
Lakar Tidningen wrote that to reach this result had been tricky, with lots of rewrites and amendments before eventually landing on a proposal which the fund’s Executive Board was able to agree on as well.
The Board initially had proposed to reject all three motions on the grounds that “a general assembly is not the right forum to decide on investments.” However, the delegates did not agree on this, and they showed some great commitment and energy on this issue, according to the reporter from Lakar Tidningen.
Chair of the Board, Thomas Linden, explained how the fund works with investments. The fund has hired investment advisers who help turn the fund’s political objectives for investments into reality. It has set up an investment advisory council, and it has an investment policy that follows the United Nations’ ten principles of the Global Compact, which cover human rights, labour, environment and corruption. The investment policy also includes the eight ILO core conventions, notably the right of association and freedom of association. Investments of obvious unethical nature would not occur, he told the delegates at the meeting.
“This goes way beyond the issue we are discussing now. Some of you here most certainly own mobiles and computers with the fruit symbol. The company that produces them does not count as ethically acceptable because it does not meet the requirements for safety in the countries where it operates,” he said.
The assembly eventually approved a motion which said that the delegates “recommend the Executive Board to update its investment policy and instructions, highlighting on one hand not to invest in companies which main activity is extraction, refining or sale of fossil fuels, and on the other hand to encourage the development of environmentally friendly technologies.”
The text above is translated to English from excerpts of an article on www.lakartidningen.se
Doctors’ pension fund endorses 2°C investment strategy
On 15 April 2016, two motions at the annual general assembly of the Medical Doctors’ Pension Fund in Denmark lead to an unanimous endorsement of a new climate-conscious 2°C investment strategy.
A motion, which had been submitted by the Danish divestment activist group Responsible Future, and which recommended an investment policy that is in alignment with the Paris agreement about a maximum of 2°C degrees global warming, received 100% of the votes. Approximately 90 delegate members attended the meeting.
A second motion proposed by Responsible Future – a recommendation to clarify ‘active ownership’ policies to meet the Paris agreement of a maximum of 2°C degrees global warming, and for the fund to report openly on its activities and engagements in this regard – also received 100% of the votes.
Below you will find a detailed account of exactly what happened at the annual general meeting in Denmark.
The Danish doctors gave full support to the climate
A greener investment policy was a key issue at a recent annual general meeting of the Medical Doctors’ Pension Fund in Denmark, and here was overwhelming support for the new UN climate goals.
If it was only up to the Danish doctors, the world would not find it difficult to meet the new UN climate goals – which were agreed upon at the climate summit in Paris in December 2015 – of a maximum temperature increase globally to two degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels.
A proposal from the advocacy group Responsible Future to amend the investment policy of the Medical Doctors’ Pension Fund so that it supports the global Paris Agreement goal was endorsed by the 89 delegates and 21 members at the superannuation fund’s annual general meeting in Kolding on 15 April 2016.
A series of speakers supported the proposal, which also received the support of the board and chair Linda Nielsen. “We want to support the two-degree target, and therefore we support the proposal. We already have invested in various projects in renewable energy,” said the chair as she commented on the proposal.
Responsible Future praised the Board of Directors and a welcoming attitude to an important issue that is particularly susceptible to doctors, said Responsible Future’s spokesman Jan-Helge Larsen:
“Climate change threatens global public health, and therefore both the WHO, the World Medical Association (WMA) and National Medical Associations of Great Britain (BMA) as well as many other health professional associations recommend to divest fossil investments. As doctors we are in a position to understand these things, and therefore we have a special responsibility to act,” said Jan-Helge Larsen in his recommendation of the motion proposal. His statements were supported and endorsed by ten following speakers.
In recent years, the focus of the Danish Medical Doctors’ Pension Fund has shifted from the traditional stocks and asset papers to the so-called alternative investments such as real estate, infrastructure and wind turbines.
“The return on alternative investments is promising, but it is also more expensive to invest in, because it requires more work.
Therefore we cooperate with other pension funds to identify the best projects. We expect to see more and more of this kind of investment cooperation in the coming years,” announced Linda Nielsen.
“At the same time we must of course act socially responsible when we invest. Through active ownership, we can draw businesses in the right direction, as it has happened several times during 2015, when we were negotiating with several companies at odds with our policy for socially responsible investments,” said Linda Nielsen.
It was encouraging that the alternative investments yielded 11.4 per cent in overall returns, and the board was also pleased to note that the Medical Doctors’ Pension Fund fared significantly better than the market average.
The text above is a translation of an article in the May 2016-issue of the Medical Doctors’ Pension Fund’s magazine Pecunia. It is republished here with permission from the Medical Doctors’ Pension Fund.
» The article in Danish language is available on lpb.dk (PDF)
» The minutes from the Annual General Meeting (in Danish langauge) are here
Excerpts from the minutes
Quoted in the minutes from the Medical Doctors’ Pension Fund’s Annual General Meeting, chair of the fund, professor Linda Nielsen, said in her oral annual report:
“The pension fund’s investments in energy companies take account of the Danish government’s climate and energy policy, which has set a number of targets for renewable energy and security of energy supply. In this policy is expected that fossil fuels, including coal, will still play a role in the Danish energy mix over medium term before independence from fossil fuels can be achieved which is expected in 2050. The Danish policy, in other words, does not write off coal, but the use of this form of energy is expected to decrease gradually.
The UN has set a target of a maximum global temperature rise of up of 2 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years, which is to be achieved through a reduction of CO2 emissions. If this objective is to be met, it is estimated that it will require a reduction of global CO2 emissions between 40 and 70 per cent. Which is a lot.
The pension fund has invested in renewable energy in recent years, and there has already been a reduction of investment in coal companies. This supports both the Danish and the United Nations’ climate targets, and the pension fund would like to continue to contribute with investing in the renewable energy sector, provided we believe that they are economically viable, and that regulatory and political risks are limited.
The pension fund has so far not made a general exclusion of all or parts of the fossil energy sector. One reason is that many energy companies do not only have activities in one specific area. The pension fund’s current policy allows us to exclude companies that have a heavy carbon footprint or an unnecessary negative impact on the environment, or which do not seek to limit its negative impact on the environment, or which do not adapt to the future regulation in the area of environment and climate. But let’s take this dialogue on investment in energy companies further down on the agenda today. I think it will be lively and interesting.”
Proposals from the delegates
There were a number of proposals from delegates. Responsible Future (Ansvarlig Fremtid) put forward two proposals.
Proposal 1 sounded like this: “We urge the Board to adjust its investment policy so that it supports the signed global political agreement, the Paris Climate Agreement, of a maximum of 2°C degrees of global warming and aiming at closer to 1.5°C degrees if possible.”
Jan-Helge Larsen, delegate from Responsible Future, gave a motivation for the proposal. Among other things he explained that the group originally had put forward a longer proposal, but shortened it after meetings with the pension fund’s board:
“We’ve had two very positive meetings with the Executive Board of Medical Doctors’ Pension Fund, and we understood that the Board was happy to recommend to go for the the first part of our proposal. So we shortened it and propose to go for this. Because the most important in our proposal is the two-degree goal statement.”
Jan-Helge Larsen also gave a number of climate-related, economic and medical arguments for the proposal put forward.
The chair thanked for the proposed amendment, saying that the board can support it. The chair furthermore said:
“I will just say a few introductory remarks in this debate, and one is that the competence to form an investment policy remains with the board and the executive management of the fund. There should be no doubt about that. But it is equally clear that one can consult with the pension fund’s members, and I would say that as a board, we very much welcome this debate. It is one that is suitable for a general assembly, and therefore we would like to see a broad debate, so the views are put forward and so that we as the board get a sense of how you are thinking.”
A number of delegates spoke and endorsed the proposal. Several stressed that the subject has an urgent nature, that it would be immoral not to adopt the proposal, and that there is a symbolic value in adopting the proposal. Some delegates were – on line with the proposers – suggesting that there is an economic argument for not investing in fossil fuels, as these are likely to be phased out over time. In regard to this, the director said, among other things:
“And I would say that it’s very, very difficult to say anything about the returns. (…) So I just want to say: Be wary of the economic argument.”
The proposal was adopted unanimously.
Proposal 2 sounded like this: “We urge the board to report annually to account in writing on past experiences and future actions in relation to using active ownership to influence fossil fuel companies to reach the two-degree target and get as close to the 1.5 degrees target as possible.”
Jan-Helge Larsen said it will be interesting to follow this and see in a year from now how things have turned out.
Chair Linda Nielsen said: “Signals across age differences and other divisions have indicated that you, our members, would like to go this way. In the board we have taken notice of this. And we share the view that simply sending out a signal like this is valuable, showing to the world that this is what we want. So it really is one of the flagpoles we will be steering after, and this is also why the board is saying yes to Proposal 2, which is about creating openness and transparency around it.”
The second proposal was then adopted unanimously as well.
German doctors take steps to divest
In December 2015, the Berlin medical doctors’ pension fund decided to divest from fossil fuels, and in May 2016, thousands of German doctors called for their pension funds to divest from coal, oil and gas as well.
A coalition of 2,500 German doctors and six medical organisations hopes for this call to spread across the nation. They have signed or supported an open call to their pension funds to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewable energy projects. The medical doctors’ pension funds hold assets totalling over 90 billion Euros.
One year ago, a similar petition signed by 110 Berlin doctors was successfull as the Berlin doctors’ pension fund, Berliner Ärzteversorgung, which has eight billion euro in assets, decided on 16 December 2015 to “end CO2 intensive investments before the end of June 2016″.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of the leading German newspapers, reported on the appeal under the headline ‘Ärzte und die Kohle’ (closed article for subscribers only), where the word ‘Kohle’ has an ambiguous double meaning as it means ‘coal’ but also is a slang word for ‘money’.
A joint press release of the initiators and supportive medical organisations was published on 27 May 2016.
In it they demanded that the pension funds withdraw all investments in coal, oil and gas companies and thus set an example for climate protection and health.
The petition stated that “doctors and medical organisations with their particular responsibilities for health cannot be indifferent to the impacts of unabated climate change and air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, (…) which impacts on the health of many people as well as being a threat to humanity’s survival.”
So they demanded of the pention funds to disclose and divest their direct and indirect investments in the 200 largest stock-registered fossil fuel companies.
» The appeal and petition: ‘Doctors and interns appeal to their pension funds: Stop investments in fossil fuels!’ (in German language)
Both moral and fiduciary responsibility
“Our pension funds have assets and investments of more than 90 billion euros. A deduction of investments from fossil companies would therefore be a clear message to policymakers, investors and businesses for a consistent transformation of the energy sector to a low-carbon economy and society,” said Dr Zacher of German Watch. “This would be of significant benefit to the health of people and to our planet.”
“Although about 80 percent of the known reserves of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground if global warming is to be limited to well below two degrees Celcius, the fossil fuel industry continues to adhere to its business model and keeps looking for additional reserves,” explained Dr Ludwig Brügmann of MEZIS and IPPNW.
“Investment in the fossil fuel industry also entails a considerable financial risk if fossil reserves for environmental reasons may no longer be needed and the investments need to be written off. Our pension plans have a fiduciary responsibility to our members to secure our pension contributions from losses and stranded assets.”
The organisers of the petition also aimed to open up the general awareness of climate and health related issues:
“In the German Medical Association, climate change and health have so far been treated as a niche topic. We hope that our appeal can also be a wake-up call to the German medical profession and the health sector that we are talking about the greatest threat to global health in this century,” said Dr Dieter Lehmkuhl from IPPNW and DGSP.
Supporting medical organisations in Germany:
• DGSP – German Society for Social Psychiatry, www.dgsp.de
• Foring – Forum for International Health, www.foring.org
• Gandhi – Globalisation and Health Initiative, www.gandhiaachen.wordpress.com
• IPPNW – International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War
• Doctors in social responsibility, www.ippnw.de
• MEZIS – Incorruptible Doctors Initiative, www.mezis.de
» The press release (in German language)
» Petition website
UK doctors first health organisation to divest
In June 2014, the British Medical Association, the representative body of doctors in the United Kingdom, voted to end its investments in fossil fuel companies, making it the first health organisation in the world to do so.
The motion, passed at the annual meeting of the BMA in Harrogate, calls on the BMA to “transfer their investments from energy companies whose primary business relies upon fossil fuels to those providing renewable energy sources.”
Lancet Commission: climate change greatest threat to global health
In 2015, The Lancet Commission published statements saying that climate change endangers all progress made in global health during the last 50 years. And its consequences are already being felt at unreasonably high cost, potentially catastrophic.
The decarbonisation of the global economy and securing the associated benefits to public health are no longer a technical or an economic issue, it is now primarily a question of political will.
The Lancet Commission on Climate Change and Health describe climate change as “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century” and at the same time as the “greatest opportunity for health”, if active mitigation measures would be implemented swiftly and effectively.
The Lancet Commission calls for a rapid decarbonisation and the fastest possible exit from fossil energy sources, in particular from coal.
» MedAct – 25 June 2014:
UK Doctors Vote to End Investments in the Fossil Fuel Industry
» The Guardian – 23 June 2015:
Climate change threatens 50 years of progress in global health, study says
THE LANCET REPORT:
Climate change a ‘health emergency’
The healthcare sector accounts for up to 10% of gross domestic product in many countries. That may sound like a lot of money. But in May 2015, financial experts at the International Monetary Fund revealed that the full costs of fossil fuels being picked up by taxpayers runs at US$10 million per minute, which is more than the total spent on healthcare by the world’s governments.
The evidence linking climate change and bad health is growing: it quotes statistics compiled by the World Health Organisation estimating that, in the period 2030 to 2050, climate change will account for approximately 250,000 additional deaths each year around the world due to malnutrition, malaria, dengue fever, diarrhoea and heat stress.
On 23 June 2015 an important new research series, known as the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate, was released.
This report, published in the international medical journal The Lancet, updates and builds on the ground breaking UCL-Lancet Commission published in 2009 when climate change was first described as the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century”.
The 2015 Commission brings together more than 60 international experts as a new commission to respond to climate change. The Commission report includes research and evidence from five working groups, each tackling a particular part of the policy response to this crisis to deliver updates on the scale of the threat, and potential ways forward.
This is a bit like the UN IPCC panel for the health world. With contributions from climate scientists, economists, energy and health professionals, the Commission report presents mitigation and adaptation policies necessary to protect human health from climate change and to promote sustainable development. The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change was formed to map out a comprehensive response to climate change – a ‘prescription’ to protect human health and survival worldwide. It represents a strong international, multidisciplinary collaboration between academic centres in Europe and China, including University College London (UCL), Tsinghua University in Beijing, Stockholm Resilience Centre, the UK Meteorological Office and the University of Exeter.
Threat to human health
The 2015 Commission understands climate change as a ‘health emergency’. The threat to human health from climate change is so great that it could undermine the last fifty years of gains in development and global health, according to the Commission.
However, the landmark report, launched in the first of a series of rolling events around the world, provides comprehensive new evidence showing responses to mitigate and adapt to climate change have significant direct and indirect positive health benefits – from reducing air pollution to improving diet – making concerted efforts to tackle climate change one of the greatest opportunities to improve global health this century.
The key messages are
• The effects of climate change are being felt today, and future projections represent an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health. Both directly and indirectly, climate change is hurting our health. This isn’t something we can worry about in the future–it’s a problem that’s right here, right now.
• However, tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century. By limiting greenhouse gas emissions or adapting communities to be more resilient, climate action can also result in unprecedented, concrete and rapid improvements to public health.
• Reducing carbon emissions will help avoid catastrophic climate change, and will also save a significant amount of money from being spent on healthcare costs – e.g. according to one study, the health benefits of air quality improvements could offset the costs of the carbon-cutting policies by up to ten times.
• Rapidly phase out coal from the global energy mix
• Encourage transition measures for cities to increases measures that support healthy lifestyles (low cost public transport, energy efficient buildings, access to green spaces)
• Establish framework for carbon pricing
• Rapidly expand access to renewable energy
• Invest in climate change and public health research (there has been no research on cc and health funded in Australia for last four years)
• Increase financing for climate resilient health systems worldwide
• Evaluate the national economic savings from avoided ill health associated with climate action
Significance and political opportunity in Australia
This report provides clear evidence that health is being harmed by current levels of global warming and climate change and that human survival depends on acting to reduce GHG emissions. The report notes that on “current emissions trajectories, temperature rises in the next 85 years are incompatible with an organised global community”.
Australians are at serious risk from the health impacts of heatwaves, extreme weather, droughts, increasing spread of climate sensitive diseases, and associated mental ill health.
Much effort is needed to protect the health of Australians from climate change. At present there is little recognition from the federal government regarding the health impacts of climate change, and no plans to take the actions outlined in this report as vital to protect the health of the community from climate impacts.
A useful frame for climate action advocates to use in relation to this report in the context of the federal government is: “Why is the Australian government failing to protect the health of Australians from this very serious threat?”
The Climate and Health Alliance has an online campaign Protect Health through Climate Action to enable people to email their MP and senators and ask them to commit to action to protect health from climate change.
» Tell your local MP and Senators you want the Australian parliament to act now to protect health from climate change. Send a letter now asking for them to commit to developing this plan – we’ll all be better for it if you do:
» Check out ‘Our Uncashed Dividend: The Health Benefits of Climate Action’ published by the Climate and Health Alliance and The Climate Institute (PDF, 17 pages).
» The 79th Sustainable Hour on 94.7 The Pulse (podcast):
The big news about climate and our health
Interview with Fiona Armstrong from Environmental Justice Australia
» More about health on this website
Three health arguments for divestment
Why divest from fossil fuels? Because money talks.
The last 20 years have shown us that the fossil fuel industry clearly is not going to volunteer to transition over to a new business model based on clean, renewable energy sources. It is not going to happen until the day their own stake holders tell them in a very firm voice that this, whether they like it or not, is what they will have to do now.
What are the reasons we want this transition to happen? Here are thee:
1) According to Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, air pollution is one of the biggest health risks worldwide, comparable to smoking. Worldwide, it is responsible for almost 15 per cent of all deaths, and in some countries air pollution is the largest ‘killer’ of them all.
2) Approximately 80 per cent of the previously known energy reserves must remain in the ground if global warming is to be limited to well below two degrees Celsius, to which the international community is committed. Nevertheless, the companies of fossil fuel production are still adhering to its old business model and wish to open up even more fossil energy reserves. Someone has to put a strong foot down. As we have come to realise, governments will not do it – primarily because they have become so heavily ‘infiltrated’ with the industry itself. (Again, money talks!)
3) Added to moral and ethical concerns over what we are passing on to our children also comes a plain economic concern: investment in the fossil fuel industry pose a significant financial risk if these investments suddenly are written off for climate protection reasons. Many large financial institutions have been warning against this risk.
The number of fossil-free investment funds continues to rise, and the returns are often higher than for fossil-rich funds.
» See Divest-Invest’s Fossil Fuel-Free Invest Brief, June 2016
— CLIME-IT Solutions (@CLIME_IT) June 4, 2016
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HESTA: Divest from fossil fuels
HESTA is investing our money in harmful fossil fuels. If you’re a HESTA member, ask them to divest and help create a healthier future! Find out more:
FIRST STATE SUPER: Divest from fossil fuels
First State Super is investing our money in harmful fossil fuels. If you’re an FSS member, ask them to divest and help create a healthier future!
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» Listen to The Sustainable Hour:
Climate reality and a doctor’s call