More than 40 countries have pledged to cut greenhouse-gas emissions across their health systems, World Health Organization officials said late Monday, representing the largest global effort to date to try to reduce contributions by the world’s hospitals and health care industry to global warming.
“This announcement is huge,” said Josh Karliner, the international director of program and strategy at Health Care Without Harm, a nonprofit that has worked to reduce the environmental impact of the health care sector. It is designed to put the industry on a path toward “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gases, he said, and “what it implies is that the way health care is provided is going to be fundamentally transformed.”
42 countries have pledged to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, the main greenhouse gas responsible for warming the planet, across their health systems. Twelve countries have committed to achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
The pledges came from high-income countries such as the United States, Britain, and Germany as well as several low and middle-income nations that are already most vulnerable to the effects climate change like the Bahamas, Fiji, and the Maldives.
The health care sector accounts for almost five percentof global carbon dioxide emission. If it were a nation, it would be fifth largest emitter.
Many of these pledges are initial commitments and will need to be strengthened with more details about how the goals might be reached.
At this week’s global climate summit in Glasgow, the issue of public health has taken on a higher profileThere has never been a United Nations climate conference like this. A dedicated health pavilion will be present for the first time, along with a series of lectures, speeches, and panels that highlight the health effects of climate change.
They included emotional pleas by mothers of children suffering from air pollution, including Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who spoke with Alok Sharma, the head of the conference, on Friday and whose daughter’s death from asthma was attributed to air pollution. There were also presentations of new technologies, such as the introduction of a zero emission ambulance.
A substantial body of research has already shown that climate change is contributing to a wide range of health risksAround the world. It is causing heat waves to worsen, intensifying wildfires and flooding to increase, as well as worsening droughts. These are causing an increase in heat-related deaths, pregnancy complications, and cardiovascular disease. As with many things climate-related the risks and harms can be especially severe in areas that are least able to adapt.
The United States, which is responsible for more than 25% of carbon dioxide emissions from the health sector globally, has joined the pledge to clean up its sector. The assistant secretary of Department of Health and Human Services, Admiral Rachel Levine said that the government would reduce carbon dioxide emissions at federal health facilities. These could include those owned by the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, incentives, guidance, and assistance would be provided to privately-owned health facilities in order to make similar reductions.
Nineteen private health care organizations in the United States have already taken steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The Biden Administration stated that the United States will reduce greenhouse gases emissions by 50 to 52 per cent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. Health care accounts for 8.5 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The federal Health and Human Services division stated that it would provide additional details Tuesday morning in a Glasgow-based public statement.
To fulfill these commitments, countries will need to significantly retool the health care sector.
For high income countries, this would include making the healthcare sector more energy efficient and less wasteful. It would also likely require the transformation to provide clean energy. For low- and middle-income countries, whose populations may not have regular access to health care or where health care facilities don’t have reliable energy, it will likely require building new and greener facilities at the same time as they are expanding health care coverage.
On Monday, international funders, including USAID, World Bank and the Green Climate Fund, had a closed-door conversation about how they would support low- and medium-income countries’ commitments.
“In the midst of the pandemic, we had to recover from extreme weather events and manage the resulting health impacts,” said Ifereimi Waqainabete, Fiji’s Minister for Health and Medical Services, in a statement. It “has shown us that health systems and facilities are the main line of defense in protecting populations from emerging threats.”