16 April 2021

Healthcare’s road to zero emissions

Climate Change

Renewable energy, zero emission transport and low-carbon drugs should all be in the immediate future for doctors if the healthcare sector is to reach vital climate targets, experts say.

A report launched today by the Climate and Health Alliance and Global Green and Healthy Hospitals outlines a roadmap for the Australian health sector to rapidly decrease greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.

The report Global Road Map for Health Care Decarbonization: a navigational tool for achieving zero emissions with climate resilience and health equity, focuses on decarbonisation while keeping patient care front-and-centre.

 

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the climate crisis is also a health crisis, and that while every sector has a role to play in protecting our planet’s natural systems, the imperative for the health sector is especially strong,” said Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on COVID-19, in the foreword of the report.

The healthcare sector in Australia is also one of the top contributors of greenhouse gases, producing 5-7% of emissions each year.

Australia’s healthcare emissions per capita are also the third highest of the 68 countries examined in the latest report. These realities only increase the responsibility of healthcare to play its part in making carbon reductions which would ultimately help to also meet national and global climate targets.

And according the roadmap, it is achievable, with a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 44 gigatons over 36 years – that’s the same impact as keeping more than 2.7 billion barrels of oil in the ground each year.

The plan outlines some drastic measures for healthcare to reach this net zero target by 2042:

  • Transitioning to zero emissions transport
  • Providing healthy and sustainably grown food
  • Producing low-carbon pharmaceutical products
  • Implementing circular and sustainable healthcare waste management
  • Improving effectiveness of the health system
  • Powering healthcare with 100% renewable energy
  • Investing in zero emissions buildings and infrastructure

Dr Nabarro said health leaders were presented with many opportunities to contribute to climate action and that they should be doing so “in ways that reflect the urgency of the climate crisis”. “This calls for urgent action now, implemented in ways that focus on the needs of those who are hardest to reach and are at risk of being left behind – both now and for years to come. The task is huge and there is no time to lose,” he said.