| HEALTH AND CLIMATE CHANGE
There is growing recognition that climate change will have a significant bearing on global health - an issue raised simultaneously in The Lancet and British Medical Journal in September 2009 when a group of eminent physicians led by the President of the Royal College of Physicians of London expressed their concerns in a letter, discussed more fully in editorial comment in the same editions. Both emphasise the drastic effect of climate change world wide.
Stop Stansted Expansion's view is that The Lancet is, to some extent, misdirecting its firepower. Our experience in the field of airport expansion has shown that it is senior doctors, particularly in the Department of Health, and those qualified in public health medicine in key positions like the Strategic Health Authorities and the Primary Care Trusts, who have failed to fulfil their obligations in putting the health of the community first when considering such major developments as airport expansion. We have had the "benefit" of discussing additional runway development at Stansted with, by correspondence and in person, the Department of Health, and the Strategic Health Authority. Furthermore we have corresponded with the Chairman of the Government's Climate Change Committee, Lord Adair Turner. A report from SSE was accepted by, the Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change which made the points which were listed in The Lancet and BMJ letters.
Part of the reason for complacency in the UK is that this country has not experienced at first hand the ravages induced by climate change elsewhere, particularly in developing countries where poverty and existing disease compound the effects of climate change, i.e. drought, flooding, malnutrition and vector borne infections.
The following points need to be borne in mind and reiterated in the right circles:
1. All medical personnel, regardless of their speciality, have a duty of care to their patients or population.
2. The above is emphasised by the WHO Charter on Transport, the Environment and Health, adopted by the UK Government in 1999, where it is recommended that the wellbeing of communities is put first when preparing and making decisions regarding transport and infrastructure policies. Co-ordination between policies on transport, environment and health were emphasised, stressing that such vulnerable groups as children, the elderly and the disabled were disproportionately affected.
3. Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) should be conducted for major new developments, including airports, and may be regarded as the Government's commitment to the WHO Charter to see how such developments impact on health and how the concerns expressed by the community can be met. The HIA is endorsed by the Government in a wide range of national policy statements and also recognised in the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam calling for EU Member States to examine the possible impact of major policies on health. The NHS Health Development Agency's Report stated that "experience shows that even an otherwise well carried out HIA. will have limited value if the recommendations arrive after key decisions have already been taken". Thus HIAs should be carried out before a policy decision on any major new development is taken. However, in the case of London Stansted Airport, the HIA was not carried out until more than two years after the Government had decided that it should be allowed to treble in size. Surprisingly, no HIA has been conducted for the proposed third runway development at Heathrow, particularly as major concerns have been expressed about noise and air quality. HIAs, unlike Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), are not statutory, although the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's (RCEP's) Report on the Urban Environment recommends this.
4. An HIA was carried out for Stansted for both the additional use of R1 and for the proposed R2 development. Both were carried out via BAA, i.e. a firm appointed and paid for by owners of the airport. It is questionable whether a genuinely objective assessment was obtained as a result of this arrangement. Both HIAs were of poor quality, particularly as each did not consider the effect of aviation on climate change. The reason which was given for this is that climate change was in the realm of Government policy and therefore need not be considered and also that the DH had recently carried out a report on climate change published in 2007. Indeed they had but this related only to Britain, not to the rest of the world, the effects of which are highlighted in the letters to The Lancet and the British Medical Journal.
5. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in its 2002 report stated that consideration should be given to restricting further airport development. A Royal Commission report has the benefit of being independent and those invited to contribute are generally of high quality, being scientifically distinguished. The then Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, expressed the view that it was a disappointing report although he himself would not have the necessary background and training to appreciate many of the points which were raised.
6. Through its global health initiative and funding for DIFID, the government is committed, with other industrialised nations, to lend support to the economy of developing countries. Despite the current economic climate, the Government has stated that funding for overseas development will not be cut. Is the Government's stance on aviation consistent with this?
Professor J. E. Banatvala CBE