Thank you for calling me first on this side of the Chamber, Mr Hosie. I declare an interest, in that I am a member of the Conservative Environment Network, and before that I was a member of the Tory Green Initiative in the 1980s. My commitment to the environment is sincere.
I congratulate the constituents of Daniel Zeichner on their ingenuity in using a petition, which is a very unusual way of bringing their concerns to a Committee of the House, formed, as it is, of general Members. I hope that those constituents will feel satisfied with the response they receive today from my right hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith, who has done so much in the field of the environment, long before he was promoted to be a Minister.
I congratulate the Government on what they have done so far, particularly on setting carbon limits, dealing with deforestation and their work on plastics. Last year, I was in India, in Bangalore, and I was astonished by the amount of plastics there. This autumn, I was in Delhi, and I saw very little plastic. I asked my host why, and he said that they had taken action in India, and that had made a decisive difference.
The issue of carbon emissions goes beyond the countryside, and it has to be faced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and others. During the Queen’s Speech debate, I drew it to the Health Secretary’s attention that the NHS’s carbon footprint in England is around 27 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, and suggested to him that all new hospitals and health facilities in this country should take carbon footprint into account. The carbon footprint is high and it takes into account health service buildings, but we also have to look at the carbon footprint of healthcare services and medicines; the carbon footprint is measured without taking into consideration the pharmaceutical products provided as medicines.
I refer colleagues to an article published last year by Agence France-Presse, which said that large numbers of pharmaceuticals had been found at levels dangerous for wildlife and the environment. It said:
“River systems around world are coursing with over-the-counter and prescription drug waste,” which is extremely harmful. If this trend persists, the amount of pharmaceutical effluence leaching into waterways could increase by two thirds before 2050, according to scientists speaking at the European Geosciences Union conference in Vienna in April 2018. Francesco Bregoli, a researcher at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, said:
“A large part of the freshwater ecosystems is potentially endangered by the high concentration of pharmaceuticals”.
He said that a large number of drugs—analgesics, antibiotics, anti-platelet agents, hormones, psychiatric drugs and antihistamines—have been found at levels dangerous for wildlife. As part of a study, he focused on one drug, diclofenac, which both the European Union and the US Environmental Protection Agency have identified as an environmental threat; its veterinary use in India has driven a subspecies of vulture on the Indian subcontinent to the brink of extinction.
For scale, healthcare in the world’s largest economies, including China and India, accounts for 4% of global emissions, while carbon dioxide emissions from healthcare in the world’s largest economies account for about 5% of their national carbon footprints, according to a recent study. Scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany have said that climate change and medicines are inextricably linked, with rising global temperatures associated with everything from the spread of infectious diseases to the impact of dangerous weather events. They say that this is the major threat to human health of the 21st century.