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Society joins call to action on the climate crisis

Published: 06 Sep 2021 in Society news

Today, the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology has published a joint editorial calling for urgent action to tackle the global environmental crisis, in partnership with leading health journals worldwide. The journal has also announced a new themed series on the sustainable development and use of medicines, launching this in an accompanying editorial. The British Pharmacological Society joins its journal in its call for action, today publishing this statement on the responsibility held by the Society, our community, and the discipline of pharmacology to play our part in halting this environmental crisis - and contribute to protecting a thriving, biodiverse planet for the future, for everyone. 

The Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, aims to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels”. To do so, countries must aim to reach a climate neutral world (‘net zero’ emissions) by 2050. The UK will host the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, in November 2021 and is asking countries to set ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets, encouraging collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society to do so. The UK has enshrined its own target in law, aiming to cut emissions by 78% by 2035. However, the UN General Assembly meeting this month that precedes COP26 will open against the backdrop of a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warning that if current trends continue, global average temperature is likely to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming over the next 20 years. Moreover, the UK Climate Change Committee has reported to Parliament that just 20% of the emissions cuts needed by 2035 are on track, with the UK failing on 17 out of 21 progress indicators, and meeting only two of 31 key policy milestones between 2019-2020.7 

Pharmacology and pharmacologists are involved in research, drug development and clinical practice - and each of these areas leaves an environmental footprint that should be examined and minimised: 

  • Research: We encourage pharmacologists to take steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their laboratories by engaging in sustainable laboratory practice and to improve the way research is carried out and prioritised, in order to make the best use of precious resources. We commit to supporting sustainable approaches to research dissemination and collaboration e.g., through lower impact scientific meetings. We welcome action from funders such as UKRI who have developed environmental sustainability strategies.
  • ​Drug discovery and development: Pharmaceutical companies have taken the positive step of committing publicly to decarbonisation strategies and we welcome the White Paper on Climate Change from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, which commits to contributing “to a healthy environment and demonstrate leadership in doing what’s necessary to mitigate climate change”.
  • Healthcare and use of medicines: We support the NHS commitment that its Carbon Footprint will reach net zero by 2040, with an ambition to reach an 80% reduction by 2028 to 2032. Medicines contribute to 25% of emissions within the NHS and the Society wants to partner with the NHS to help reduce this.
  • Setting priorities: Given the inevitable environmental impact of research, drug development and healthcare, we advocate for prioritising these resources towards addressing areas of on unmet need in the UK and in global health. 

Our commitment 

The Society has committed to working in pursuit of social justice and to ensure that everyone, including future generations, can benefit from pharmacology research. We are preparing to launch a new strategy, and as part of this we will commit to ensuring our own operations align with net zero targets, and to using our voice in the pharmacology and wider research and health sector to support our community in making progress on this critical issue. We will commit ourselves to an ambitious timeline as we plan activities, which we will share as part of our new strategy in January 2022, but in summary we commit to: 

  1. Reducing the environmental impact of our organisation 

We will use our policies across our organisation to foster change. We will reduce the environmental impact of travel through agile working for staff and a hybrid approach to meetings and events. We will review our investments to ensure they align with our ethical, social, and environmental values. We will seek to work with suppliers who share and align to these values, reducing and ultimately replacing contracts with those companies that do not support net zero progress  

  1. Supporting the pharmacology community to engage in sustainable research, development, and clinical practice. 

We recognise that these are complex issues that can only be solved through concerted international collaboration. We want to help our community and partners to come together and develop new ways of working, using our journals, meetings and events, and our role in supporting education, training and research practice.     

The Society’s President, Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed said:
 

Tackling the climate crisis needs joined up, international leadership. It also needs everyone to protect the natural world – because as humans we are a part of it.

As pharmacologists, the natural world provides riches for medicines and discovery that make a life changing impact on human and animal health. However, the environmental footprint left by research and healthcare also causes harm, and it is important we develop sustainable strategies to maximise benefits and minimise damage to the planet.

The Society has recently launched a ‘sustainable medicines’ network on our Community site We want to work with members and partners to develop our approach, so please submit a request to join this network if you’d like to be involved. 

The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology has issued a call for papers on sustainable pharmacology. Read more here.