In September, Healthcare Without Harm (HCWH) launched ‘Health Care’s Climate Footprint’, the first report to calculate the carbon footprint of the global healthcare sector. The work was carried out in conjunction with Arup and used global spending data along with more detailed information from 43 countries. From this they have made a set of recommendations to align healthcare emissions and goals with the global climate targets. At a follow up event the next day, workers from the European healthcare sector met at the first HCWH European Climate Summit to help map out the route to achieving these goals.
The report’s conclusion was that the healthcare climate footprint was 4.4% of net global greenhouse gas emissions. If the healthcare sector was a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter on the planet.
With 17% of emissions from Scope 1 and 12% from Scope 2, this means that the majority of the emissions, 71% are Scope 3 and come from the supply chain. When measured across all three scopes, it is the combustion of fossil fuels that makes up more than half of the emissions. As well as contributing to the health impacts relating to a changing climate, the burning of fossil fuels is also causing major health problems, with air pollution contributing to more than 7 million premature deaths and long term chronic conditions that in turn require treatment and add to the climate impact of the healthcare sector.
Whilst the burning of fossil fuels is the major contributor to the footprint, there are significant contributions from agriculture (e.g. catering, growing cotton), chemicals, transport and waste treatment. A further 1% of global emissions come from anaesthetic gases and metered dose inhalers.
Further conclusions from the report show the expected link between spending and emissions and that the top three emitters are the United States, China and collectively the countries of the EU. These account for 56% of the climate footprint of the healthcare sector.
With the Lancet report of 2015 concluding that the climate change was both the biggest threat and opportunity to public health of the 21st Century, this report is a timely reminder of the important part that the healthcare sector can play in reducing the impact of climate change.
The full report is available on the HCWH website HERE
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About the Author
Clare is the Energy and Sustainability Manager at Northampton General Hospital.