The United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP26 – is taking place in Scotland. As countries from around the globe gather in Glasgow to seek ways of accelerating action to tackle climate change, the GMC’s Assistant Director for Corporate Social Responsibility, Jane Durkin, explains how even a medical regulator has a role to play.

As I write, almost every country on earth is represented, in Scotland, in a global climate summit that will have far-reaching consequences for us and for future generations.

Since COP started, in 1995, climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority. That shift has coincided with a realisation that it isn’t just faraway people in faraway lands that bear the impact.

The climate emergency affects us all, that much has been clear for years now. And it has already begun to do so. We cannot escape those harsh realities, and one is that climate change poses a profound threat to health.

We all have a part to play, both as individuals and as organisations, because we all have an impact on the environment. As a healthcare regulator we’re no different, and so we’ve been considering the impact we have.

We are progressing our own plans. We still have a lot of work to do, including setting out a clear target for achieving net zero carbon status, but we are determined to get there as quickly as we can.

We’re far from alone among UK healthcare organisations. The NHS has a massive challenge ahead but, having been the first health service in the world to commit to reaching carbon net zero, it has made progress.

That progress is spearheaded by its Greener NHS programme. We’ve been talking with them, about their work and how we can help, since the beginning of this year. One simple action that came from those discussions was our ability to spread the word internationally.

Last month, I was joined by Nicky Philpott from the Greener NHS team to address an audience of worldwide medical regulators. The virtual conference was run by IAMRA – the International Association of Medical Regulatory Authorities – and our presentation was streamed across multiple time zones to a global audience.

IAMRA may lack and scale and the scope of COP26, but reinforcing the message that action on climate change is a matter for us all, even for medical regulators, is important in its own way.

And in that presentation was I was also able to highlight what we have already done as the UK’s regulator. For example our Outcomes for graduates– what we expect newly-qualified doctors to know as they begin their careers – now requires knowledge of sustainable healthcare.

Of course, these are initial steps into what will be complex conversations. More work is required, both to determine, understand and explain what it will mean in practice, and to look at other areas.

But, in that respect, we’re in a similar position to those grappling with the global issues at COP26. We, and they, need to find clear ways to turn our ambitions into actions. It isn’t easy, but there is no doubting our commitment. It’s a complex and challenging path, but we’re on it and there’s no turning back.