Skip to content
Follow us
17th January 2024

A letter to and response from Keir Starmer

In a letter to Keir Starmer and Ed Miliband, UKHACC Chair asked them to argue for an independent review of Rosebank’s impact on health, and that health should be the first concern of government. Here’s the response.

Dear Richard,

Thank you for writing to Keir, he has asked me to respond on his behalf. 

I have made a note of your comments. It is always helpful to hear from experts in their fields from across the country – if you are happy, I will make a note of your comments and pass them onto the domestic policy team. Thank you also for all the work you’ve been doing to highlight the issue of tackling climate change. I want to share with you some of Keir’s and the Labour Party’s policy on the matter.

I can assure you that Keir is absolutely committed to fighting climate change. At Party Conference this year, Keir set out why Labour must speed ahead with its climate mission as part of its plans for a decade of national renewal. I would recommend reading his full speech at this link here on how Britain will get its future back under a Labour Government.  

Every family and business in Britain has paid the price of the Conservatives’ failed energy policy which has left Britain as the worst hit country in Western Europe during the energy crisis. It is a stunning admission from this government that, during the worst energy bills crisis in generations, their flagship King’s Speech energy policy won’t even take a penny off energy bills. Their plans to scrap energy efficiency targets for landlords will leave renters facing higher energy bills, whilst their failure to deliver cheap, clean energy like onshore wind leaves us reliant on dictators like Putin.  

Labour is committed to making Britain a clean energy superpower with 100% clean power by 2030, as one of its five missions in Government. We will make energy cheap and secure, so that the British public never again face spiralling bills; boost jobs and investment in every region and nation of the country; and grow our economy from the bottom up and the middle out. 

It is an ambitious goal, aiming to put us ahead of any major economy in the world, but it’s also the biggest opportunity we’ve had in decades to make this country work for working people. We will use this opportunity to create half a million jobs in clean power to deliver security and bring back hope to communities that were hit hard by deindustrialisation in the 1980s. 

In Government, powered by Labour’s Green Prosperity Plan, we will: 

Ahead of the next General Election, Labour will set out more of our plans to accelerate to net zero, including on decarbonising transport, land, buildings, and finance. 

I have included some further links on this topic at the bottom of this email. 

Thank you once again for your message. Please do not hesitate to get back in touch with any further thoughts you would like to share. 

Best wishes, 

Ben, Office of Keir Starmer MP
Leader of the Opposition

Here is the original letter Richard Smith sent to Keir Starmer and Ed Miliband:

Dear Keir Starmer and Ed Miliband,

I am the chair of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, which brings together 46 organisations of health professionals, including most of the royal colleges (physicians, nurses, GPs, surgeons, pharmacists, etc), the BMA, the Lancet, and the BMJ. Altogether our members’ members number over a million, most of the NHS workforce.

As I’m sure you understand, the climate and nature crisis is a health crisis. UKHACC works to mitigate the climate and nature crisis, encourage adaptation as harm to health is already here, and promote the benefits that will flow to health if we make the changes we need to make to respond to the climate and nature crisis.

As you will know, the Prime Minister has announced plans to grant over 100 new oil and gas licences and approved the Rosebank oil field, aiming to ‘max out’ fossil fuel production in the North Sea. You have publicly committed to abide by any fossil fuel contracts signed, effectively endorsing these contracts, and exposing the government, and thereby the public, to financial penalty should attempts be made to reverse these decisions. We understand why you have done this, but we think it a mistake.

We fear that many MPs do not understand the seriousness of the threat to health and our whole way of life from the climate and nature crisis. WHO has declared climate change to be the major threat to global health. The world is seeing harm to health from floods, wildfires, heatwaves, extreme storms, extension of infectious diseases (pandemics have the same root causes as the climate and nature crisis), and shortages of food, water, and land, driving forced migration and conflict. Mental health is severely affected, and air pollution, which largely results from the burning of fossil fuels, kills seven million people a year.

The UK has not yet experienced the extensive harm that is already being experienced in countries like Bangladesh, which I know well, but people in Britain are suffering now from floods, heatwaves, extreme storms, and air pollution; and the mental health of many people, particularly the young, is harmed. What is not well understood is that these harms will grow exponentially worse without moves like stopping all new exploration of fossil fuels and ending subsidies to them. UK health leaders are unified in their opposition to fossil fuel expansion.

Instead, we should be investing in improving homes, a move that will improve health, help with the cost of living crisis, and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

As I have said, we understand why you promised to stand by signed contracts, but could you not argue that there ought first be an independent review of Rosebank’s impact on health and its compatibility with Britain’s legal commitment to be carbon net-zero by 2050? Such a review would, I think, show both the damage to health and the incompatibility with legally-binding targets. The argument for a review would probably be enough to stop contracts being signed.

Or you might argue that if and when in government despite your commitment to honour signed contracts it could (not would) be necessary to review the contracts in the light of the worsening climate and nature crisis. The people’s health should be the first concern of government.  Again, this would probably be enough to stop contracts being signed now.

If it would be helpful, we’d be pleased to meet and discuss these issues of great importance.

Yours faithfully

Dr Richard Smith CBE, FMedSci, FRCPE

Chair, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change