How nurses can contribute to climate and health justice

Nurses’ Unions, Climate Change and Health: A Global Agenda for Action   was Nurses unions -GNU-Final-Coverwritten by Sean Sweeney, Irene Shen and John Treat of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED). ( A summary appears in the September 2019 Bulletin 90 of the TUED ).  The report provides a brief overview of climate change issues, and an extensive chapter about the human health impacts of climate change. It concludes by outlining six key areas where nurses and their unions “can make use of their expertise and political strength in the fight against the climate and health emergency, and for climate and health justice.” The agenda for action  includes: Resist new fossil fuel projects; Make Emergency Response and Recovery Services “Climate Ready”; Work with Allies at the Global Level on Preparedness; Fight Poverty and Racism. Defend Worker Rights and Protections; Articulate and Advocate for a Pro-Public Shift in Policy; and Extend Public Control Over Energy Generation and Use through Energy Democracy. Although the report was written for nurses’ unions, the authors express the  hope is that it can be useful for the labor movement more generally, “to wage the struggle for climate protection and climate justice with a clearer understanding of the challenges that must be faced in order to achieve it.”

The report was written for  Global Nurses United , a federation of the nurse and health care worker unions which has grown to represent  27 nations since its founding in 2016.  The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions and Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec are members from Canada;  National Nurses United is the member from the United States. The purpose of GNU is to fight against austerity, privatization, and attacks on public health, as well as  to work for nurses’ and workers’ rights and improved patient care for all.

Nurses climatechange-cover-368x480The Canadian Federation of Nurses released its own publication in June 2019,   Climate Change and Health: It’s Time for Nurses to Act , “as a starting point for for advocacy and leadership”.  It shares some content with the Global report, but focuses on Canadian examples, and outlines its own six recommendations for action. A summary appears here .

Canadian nurses’ unions issue a call for action on the climate health emergency

Nurses climatechange-cover-368x480The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) is the umbrella organization representing approximately 200,000 nursing and front-line health professionals in unions across Canada. At their Biennial Convention in Fredricton in June, representatives passed Resolution #3, calling on the CFNU and its Member Organizations: …  to recognize within their position statements that climate change is “a global crisis and health emergency”; …to support sustainable health care practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in health care settings; …to “engage with community stakeholders, such as the Canadian Labour Congress, in initiatives and campaigns that raise the public’s awareness about the serious health implications of climate change”; and to call on the federal and provincial governments to undertake the necessary policies to meet Canada’s obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Paris Agreement)….”

Also at the convention, the CFNU released a  discussion paper: Climate Change and Health: It’s Time for Nurses to Act . It is described as “a starting point for for advocacy and leadership”. It summarizes the well-established health impacts related to climate change in the Canadian environment – for example, heat stress, increased allergies and asthma, cardiorespiratory distress from air pollution due to wildfires, Lyme disease. It includes a special focus on mental health and anxiety impacts.  It also highlights three practical examples from  2018 : wildfire smoke exposure in B.C., flooding in Atlantic Canada, and heat waves in Ontario and Quebec.

The report concludes with these six recommendations for nurses:

  1. Work with your employers, unions and associations to reduce emissions and to “green” your workplace.  (sub-recommendations include “Promote the divestment of pension plans from high-emission sectors and the investment in clean technologies and low-emission sectors;”)
  2. Know about climate change science, and help educate patients and the general public about it.  (sub-recommendations include “Campaign for the ecological determinants of health to be included in nursing education to prepare future generations of nurses, who will see the greatest effects of climate change. Nursing education should support a basic level of climate change literacy.”)
  3. Call for meaningful federal and provincial actions to reduce and eliminate climate change-causing emissions to ensure Canada leads the world in implementing its obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (The Paris Accord). (Sub-recommendation: Promote transitioning away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. ….. By investing in renewal energy rather than in fossil fuels we are committing to a healthier future.)
  4. Be aware and plan for the emerging needs of patients resulting from climate change and help them take action to support a healthy planet. (Sub-recommendation: “ Be aware and prepare your workplaces for future influxes of climate refugees coming to Canada. This population may have experienced trauma or extreme environmental conditions and taken risks to enter this country.”)
  5. Be prepared for extreme weather events.
  6. Promote active transportation and local healthy agriculture and food systems to reduce emissions.

Climate-Change-Toolkit-for-Health-Professionals-2019-234x300The Discussion paper was launched as part of a panel which included Dr. Courtney Howard, president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.  CAPE issued their latest Call to Action  in February 2019 , in collaboration with the Canadian Medical Association , the Canadian Nurses Association, the Urban Public Health Network , and the Canadian Public Health Association.  On April 30, CAPE released a Climate Change Toolkit for Health Professionals, which is available for download in either English or French , and offers eight stand-alone modules with seven factsheets. Topics include Climate Change Health Impacts Globally and Across Canada; Taking Climate Change Action at Health Facilities ; Preparing for Climate Change in our Communities;  and Engaging in Climate Change as Health Professionals, which highlights, for example,  CAPE’s role in the campaign to phase-out coal in Alberta. As part of their active advocacy campaign, CAPE  makes frequent media statements and was part of the health delegation which met with the federal Minister of Health on June 7 .