The COP26 agreement reached in Glasgow has been heralded by some and criticised by others. The wide-ranging set of decisions, resolutions and statements that constitute the outcome of COP26 is the fruit of intense negotiations over the past two weeks, and tough work over many months.

The COP26 agreement expresses alarm and utmost concern that human activities have caused around 1.1 °C of global warming to date and that impacts are already being felt in every region. It also stresses the urgency of enhancing ambition and action in relation to mitigation adaptation and finance in this critical decade to address gaps between current efforts and pathways in pursuit of the ultimate objective of the Convention and its long-term global goal.

The College believes that climate change is a common concern of humankind, and is encouraged that the right to health, as well as obligations on human rights; the rights of minorities and the most vulnerable in society including migrants, those with disabilities and children; the right to development and the right to gender equality are all recognised as key consideration for countries as they seek effective action on climate change.

On health specifically, the College is encouraged by the COP26 Health Programme which has been developed and delivered by the UK Government during its presidency of the COP26 summit. The programme enables transformational change in health systems globally that, we hope, will protect both people and the planet whilst elevating the trusted voices of health professionals to present the health argument for more ambitious action on climate change.

As a result of the programme, 52 countries have committed to building health systems which are able to withstand the impacts of climate change and which are low carbon and sustainable. These include 47 countries, representing over a third of global health care emissions, which have committed to develop a sustainable, low-carbon health system. 14 of these 47 countries have set a deadline of 2050 or earlier, by which their health system will reach Net Zero.

In Scotland, the NHS has reset its targets on reducing carbon emissions. It now has an ambition to bring the net zero target to 2040 instead of 2045. All four UK health administrations have pledged that services will have net zero climate impact by 2045. Some of the measures the NHS in Scotland will take include all NHS Scotland owned buildings using renewable heat by 2038; moving to zero emissions of medical nitrous oxide by 2027 and all NHS Scotland small and medium vehicles will be net zero by 2025. These are measures which, if achieved, will help the NHS in Scotland to significantly reduce its carbon footprint. The NHS climate actions for all four UK nations can be read here.

Finally, the College is working to do its bit on climate change and sustainability. We have established an Advisory Forum on the Environment which is examining what more we can do to reduce our carbon footprint, in addition to actions already taken including offering sustainable catering solutions and providing recyclable drinking cups across the College buildings. We also contributed to and supported a recent statement on the climate emergency by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland, of which we are an active member.