Advocacy for a healthy energy policy – The experience of a national consultative process

The routine release of pollutants from energy extraction, distribution and consumption has significant implications for human health, directly as environmental health impacts, and indirectly through impacts on ecosystems and global climate change (1). However, these implications are currently insufficiently considered in national energy policy in South Africa.

Between April and September 2013, three Health and Energy roundtables were held with role players in the health and energy sectors in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in order to identify the health impacts of current energy policy and systems; develop an advocacy position for a healthy energy policy; and develop a strategy for informing and mobilising the health sector on energy and health. The results were presented during a satellite session at the PHASA conference.

Presentations by experts in climate systems, energy policy, and health were followed by breakaway group discussions. Three themes emerged from these discussions, namely: Researching the health impacts of energy in South Africa; Advocacy for a healthy energy policy; and Mobilising the health sector.

Researching the health impacts of energy in South Africa

Research priorities include quantifying the local health impacts and external costs of coal, the costs and benefits of renewable energy, and surveys of household energy usage and health impacts. The South African Weather Service should be approached to make data on air quality available to researchers via the South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS).

Advocacy for a healthy energy policy

The health sector needs to be involved in developing and advocating for healthy energy policy, such as providing submissions on the Integrated Energy Plan (IEP).  The National Department of Health (NDoH) should be represented on the IEP advisory committee. Continual evaluation of the health impact of all policies should be mandatory.

Mobilising the health sector

A collaborative strategy for mobilizing the health sector is needed.  Health departments and health facilities should adopt the internationally-recognised Global Green and Healthy Hospitals (GGHH) agenda, especially with respect to energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy generation (2).

Energy and health should be included in health sciences curricula and training programmes, and more training positions for occupational and environmental health specialists should be created.

Communities should be involved in promoting household energy efficiency, safer energy sources, and raising awareness of the health impacts of household energy use.

Key impacts of energy and health and low-carbon initiatives in the health system should be regularly communicated via mass media.

Actions for the way forward

Possible near-term and longer term actions for the way forward were identified:

In the near-term:

  • Quantify the health and environmental costs of energy from coal in South Africa
  • Call for access to air quality and industry emissions data via SAAQIS
  • Encourage health institutions to adopt the agenda of the GGHH and to undertake energy efficiency initiatives
  • Participate in the efforts of the Electricity Governance Initiative of South Africa (EGI-SA) to promote “SMART Electricity” (3)
  • Get health sector representation at the public hearings in October 2013 on the IEP

In the longer term:

  • Link public health data to air quality data
  • Advocate for a green health care agenda during the NHI planning phase
  • Develop resources to raise awareness in the health sector about climate change, energy choices and health impacts.
  • Host further Energy and Health roundtables to develop an ongoing advocacy strategy

A broad-based collaboration of health organizations should use the opportunities presented by current health system restructuring and the national energy planning process to advocate for healthier national energy policy and local practice in our health institutions.

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