Cop26: Children’s doctors cycle from London to Glasgow to confront world leaders over air pollution

Hospital staff ride hundreds of miles to key climate summit to call for urgent action

Jane Dalton
Friday 29 October 2021 23:31
The health experts want more urgent action on climate
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Dozens of children’s health professionals have arrived by bike in Carlisle, en route to the UN climate summit where they will demand action on air pollution and the climate emergency.

Children’s hospital staff and health-sector chiefs been taking part in a 500-mile cycle ride from London to Glasgow, where world leaders are meeting for talks crucial to curbing disastrous temperature rises.

The experts, including doctors, consultants, nurses and anaesthetists, are angry at how air pollution and climate change are causing illness and death, especially in children.

They will hand world leaders an open letter, dubbed a “healthy climate prescription” signed by organisations around the world that represent 45m health professionals, calling on world leaders to make air pollution a priority in climate action and sustainable development.

World leaders attending Cop26 include Joe Biden, Australia’s Scott Morrison and Narendra Modi of India, the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

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The letter was launched in Geneva by the World Health Organisation’s health and climate chiefs who were behind the WHO’s Cop26 special report on climate change and health.

Both the letter and report spell out the links between climate and health, and call for urgent action.

The cyclists, who range in age from 18 to 79, include Matthew Shaw, chief executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, Robin Stott, a founder of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, and Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The “Ride for their Lives” cyclists, who work for six UK children’s hospitals including the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow, set off on Monday and will arrive in Glasgow on Sunday.

One cyclist, Tony Waterston, a retired consultant paediatrician, said: “The damage to children from air pollution is particularly serious, as their lungs are at a more vulnerable stage.

“Air pollution was recently named as a cause of death for the first time in the UK, in the case of nine-year-old asthmatic Ella Kissi-Debrah.

“We know this problem is widespread in the UK and yet very little national action is being taken.”

Mike McKean, a consultant at the Great North Children’s Hospital, said: “We’re seeing increasing numbers of children with asthma gasping for air coming into hospital, requiring oxygen to our emergency departments and sadly we’re still seeing children die from asthma.”

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