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People and places - reflecting on climate change

10 Oct 2019 | Kim Marlin

Over the summer I undertook a work-based placement at GCPH to expand my knowledge on public health.  Previously, my interest in public health was focused on social security and health inequality, but through new knowledge and learning I have become increasingly interested in the impact of transport, fumes and pollution not only on our lovely planet, but also on our health. With the help of the team of researchers at GCPH, I was keen to find out more about how Glasgow can lead the way in the fight against climate change.

Through my placement I gained an insight into ongoing work with Glasgow City Council, about Public Health reform and the six national Public Health Priorities, and about how climate change is moving up the policy agenda – both locally and nationally. I also attended the International Making Place Conference where I learned about how the Place Standard tool was being used to support communities to across Scotland. This placement differed from my previous experience as it involved working with people who have applied knowledge and methodologies that I had previously only read about in textbooks.

I first developed an interest in climate change and public health through an application to a Scottish Government Graduate Programme. With so many questions on the energy sector, it got me thinking about where health sat within this agenda. This question was further explored during my placement with GCPH, where, by hearing about ongoing work and through exposure to the Place Standard tool, I became more aware of the various ways in which public health and climate change overlap. Although the Place Standard Tool does not have an explicit focus on climate change, by considering the various elements of what makes a place work well for the whole population, climate considerations can be introduced into the conversation.

For example, when examining the ‘natural spaces’ or the ‘moving around’ themes, air quality, greening and travelling sustainably can be considered. Similarly, when considering ‘care and maintenance’ or ‘facilities and amenities’, issues of recycling, food or the ability to access amenities without carbon use can be discussed. The Place Standard tool is also useful for considering the impact of changes on different population groups. For example, consideration can be given to how spaces can be more accessible to population groups that face social exclusion, such as people with a disability.

place standard tool

Declaring a Climate Emergency in Scotland represents new territory in terms of how climate change is framed. Even though there is no consensus of meaning in respect to ‘climate emergency’, it has become a powerful term for driving more ambitious targets to become carbon-neutral, both nationally and at a local authority level. Within Glasgow City Council, the Climate Emergency Working Group was set up to consider how to take forward actions to address the emergency, which has led to the creation of 61 recommendations to support the carbon neutrality aim.

These recommendations are wide ranging, but include changes to transport and travel behaviour, energy use, emissions, food and embedding climate considerations into all future Council Plans. A shift towards more active travel is a helpful example of the link between public health and climate change and an area that GCPH has developed a large body of work on already.

This would not only help to improve health, but also to tackle pollution, improve air quality and to support the city to eventually become carbon neutral. The next step, and the most challenging one, will be to consider how these recommendations can be met. Public Health will have a key role in helping to deliver them and ensuring that all population groups are protected from the effects of climate change.

From a personal perspective, I would like to be more involved in organisations and environmental groups that aim to tackle climate change, potentially using the Place Standard tool as an aid to consider climate change within communities. 

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