Government pledges £56m for university research into climate change health impacts

The funding will be awarded on a competitive basis

Under an updated funding scheme, which was unveiled late last week, a number of UK universities will be selected on a competitive basis to form the next wave of health protection research units (HPRUs).

Each of the chosen universities will receive funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and practical support from Public Health England (PHE) to scale up their research into the impact which issues such as air pollution, extreme weather events and natural disasters can have on human health.

The funding and expertise will be provided under a five-year contract, from 2020 to 2025. The Government claims that achieving HPRU status is also likely to result in the awarding of further funding from public and private bodies. Universities collectively received an additional £50m from non-governmental bodies during the 2017-2018 financial year.

To date, HPRUs have predominantly been tasked with responding to major virus outbreaks, such as the Ebola crisis, and emergency situations, such as the Salisbury Novichok poisoning and terror-related incidents. This announcement marks the first time that action to combat climate change and its probable health impacts have been highlighted as a requirement for HPRU status.

Air pollution can have a devastating impact on our health and is a key issue that we need to tackle through research,” Health Minister Nicola Blackwood said.

“Moreover, we’ve just seen the warmest February day on record and we have a duty to the public to consider the health challenges climate change brings.

“This new investment, as part of our Long Term Plan for the NHS, will unlock further solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the health and care system over the next five years, aiming to drastically improve all of our lives.”

Funding under the HPRU scheme will be awarded on a competitive basis, with the winning universities set to be announced in April 2020.

Climate-related contracts

In related news, the Cabinet Office is expected to announce later today (11 March) that the Government will soon update its funding protocols for contracts with businesses, in a bid to ensure that Government funding is being used to tackle climate challenges and social issues.

At the social values summit at King’s College London this afternoon, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington will tell delegates that the shake-up will help the Government to identify and eliminate modern slavery and climate risks from its own supply chains and the value chains of all companies it funds.

Specifically, the new framework will require all privately owned firms applying for Government contracts to disclose and reduce their climate impacts and to pledge to eliminate human rights risks from all levels of their supply chains.

The rules will also place increased importance on social and economic sustainability, enabling the Government to refuse to fund companies which do not employ and train a proportion of staff from marginalised groups.

“Every year, the government spends £49bn with external organisations and it is morally right that we make sure none of that money goes to any organisations who profit from the evil practices of modern slavery,” Lidington is expected to say at the summit.

“Similarly, it is right that we demand that the organisations we work with meet the high standards we need to protect our environment and employ workforces which represent our diverse society, including people with disabilities and those from ethnic minorities.”

The changes to the framework come after the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) accused the Government of financing high-carbon projects with high levels of human risk in their supply chains through its credit agency, UK Export Finance. The Committee is currently undertaking a separate inquiry into these accusations. 

Sarah George

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