Nurse union leaders from around the world demand governments address health impacts of the climate crisis
Today, at a briefing for members of the global press, Global Nurses United (GNU), the premier federation of global nurse unions, released a statement urging governments to take action against the health impacts of climate change, in advance of international climate negotiations at COP28.
The briefing, which featured union nurse leaders from Brazil, Burundi, Canada, India, Italy, and the United States, culminated in the release of a five-point plan entitled Global Nurses’ Proposal to Address the Health Impacts of Climate Change, an outline of nurse demands on governments to mitigate the climate crisis and increase health care systems’ preparedness. The plan calls on governments to do five things:
- Mitigate the climate crisis by phasing out both the production and consumption of fossil fuels and rapidly reducing global carbon emissions;
- Bolster health and emergency infrastructure by ensuring all hospitals and health care facilities will continue to operate in the face of climate disasters and are resilient to future extreme weather events;
- Protect global public health in the face of rising temperatures and increased disease transmission by safeguarding the public from the health impacts of climate change;
- Support frontline nurses and other health care workers in the face of disasters by ensuring they are prepared to handle extreme weather events and care for patients affected by a rapidly warming climate; and
- Ensure that all relevant stakeholders are consulted in the development of climate and health care preparedness programs.
Nursing is a global profession premised on identifying and solving public health problems across the world through international collaboration, the sharing of nursing knowledge, and equitable distribution of health care resources. Nurses play an essential role in helping to mitigate the ongoing impacts of extreme weather events and the changing climate, which is accelerating disease transmission, air pollution, crop losses, and global migration as regions become inhospitable to human survival. Globally, nurses are already responding to the public health impacts of the climate crisis. Increasing temperatures and extreme weather events are leading to increased risks of heat stroke, physical injury, malnutrition, exposure to infectious diseases, as well as health impacts from displacement and exposure to conflict.
Jean Ross, RN and president of National Nurses United in the United States, said, “Every extreme weather event has shown us nurses that our health care system is not prepared to handle the impacts of climate change. From the physical infrastructure of our hospitals and clinics, to the working conditions that have caused a severe staffing crisis amongst nurses and other health care workers, our health care system is inadequate. We recognize that bold action is needed to address the catastrophic health impacts of climate change. We need our governments to mitigate the severity of the climate crisis by phasing out the fossil fuels that have caused this crisis, and we need governments to take urgent steps to prepare our health care systems, so that we are prepared to handle the health impacts that we are already seeing from climate events.”
Solange Caetano, president of Brazil’s National Federation of Nurses, shared, “The role of nurses on the frontline of the response to climate challenges is indisputable, and the Federation aligns with GNU's vision of promoting actions that ensure the protection of our profession and the resilience of health systems in the face of growing environmental threats. We pledge to do everything possible to ensure the implementation of this plan, which will protect public health and reduce the impacts of the climate crisis. We are aware of the link between the well-being of the planet and the health of communities, and it is critical that action is taken to address this global crisis."
Mélance Hakizimana, the national president of SYNAPA (Syndicat National du Personnel Paramédical et d'Appui de la Santé Publique) of Burundi, stated, “Nurses around the world are on the frontline in the fight against global pandemics and the health effects of the climate crisis. Hence, they play a vital role in responding to all national and international health issues. This means that the response to any health crisis must absolutely involve frontline staff, including nurses. In addition, nurses have a wide range of professional skills: technical, administrative, and social services are all called upon in such circumstances, demonstrating the versatility of nursing functions. Lastly, nurses learn other lessons that inspire them to devise innovative strategies for improving care, education, and promotional interventions in health emergencies, while at the same time addressing psychosocial issues in the present and the future.”
The president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses (CFNU), Linda Silas, noted that, “Canada’s nurses continue sounding the alarm on climate change and its many impacts on the health of our planet and patients. Our country is reeling from its worst wildfire season on record, with tens of thousands of people forced from their homes. We stand firmly with GNU in calling on our political leaders to commit to bold action on climate change and health at COP28. “
Jibin Theerthakkuzhi Chalil, the state president & national working secretary of India’s United Nurses Association (UNA), shared, “As the global nations are getting ready for the 28th international conferences about climate change, it is important to examine how it is affecting every country’s health. India’s inadequate health system makes our population particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate risk on health. Climate change directly affects health, causing more sickness and death throughout our country.”
The national secretary of NurSIND in Italy, Andrea Bottega, stated, “The invitation we make to States is to invest in nurses to overcome the global shortage: training more nurses means equipping ourselves with a strategic resource to face the challenging effects of the climate crisis. It means being able to strengthen health structures and emergency systems that respond promptly in the event of climate disasters and guarantee the continuity of health services. More nurses mean protecting global public health from the spread of new viruses as happened with the Covid-19 pandemic. Nurses are the frontline of all health systems in the world and are a strategic resource to be involved in health policy choices, as we are the first to be involved in the implementation of programs to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis.”
Global Nurses United is the preeminent federation of nurse unions internationally, with more than 35 affiliated unions across the world, coming together to fight for labor rights for nurses, health and safety protections in the workplace, a strong public health infrastructure, and for safe and therapeutic patient care for patients and communities.