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19th December 2023

Letter to Labour leadership calls for review of Rosebank

UKHACC Chair, Richard Smith has written to the Labour leadership calling on them to commit to review decisions on new oil and gas licences if in government.

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