More than 40 countries have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their health systems, World Health Organization officials said Monday night, representing the largest global effort to date to try to reduce the contributions of the world’s hospitals and healthcare industry to global warming.
“This announcement is huge,” said Josh Karliner, international director of programs and strategies for Health Care Without Harm, a nonprofit organization that has worked to reduce the environmental impact of the healthcare sector. It is designed to put the industry on a path to “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions, he said, and “what it implies is that the way health care is delivered will be fundamentally transformed.”
The governments of 42 countries have said they will reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that is warming the world, in all their health systems. Twelve countries have committed to achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
The pledges come from high-income countries, including the United States, Britain, and Germany, as well as several low- and middle-income countries that are already among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as the Bahamas, Fiji, and Las Maldives.
The healthcare sector represents almost five percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. If it were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter.
Many of the promises represent initial commitments that will need to be reinforced with more specific details on how the goals could be achieved.
At this week’s global climate summit in Glasgow, the question of public health has taken on a higher profile than at any previous United Nations climate conference. For the first time there is a pavilion dedicated to health and a series of panels, speeches and conferences describing the effects of climate change on health.
They included emotional pleas from mothers of children suffering from air pollution, including Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who spoke with Alok Sharma, the conference director, on Friday and whose death of her daughter from asthma was attributed to air pollution. . New technology presentations have also been made, including the introduction of a zero-emission ambulance.
There is already a significant body of research showing that Climate change is contributing to a wide range of health risks. worldwide. It is exacerbating heat waves, intensifying wildfires, increasing flood risks and worsening droughts. These, in turn, increase heat-related mortality, pregnancy complications, and cardiovascular disease. And as with many things related to the weather, the risks and damages are particularly severe in the places that are less responsive.
The United States, which accounts for more than a quarter of global healthcare carbon dioxide emissions, joined in the commitment to clean up its healthcare sector. Admiral Rachel Levine, deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said the government would reduce emissions at federal health facilities, which could include those operated by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and provide incentives, orientation. and assistance to privately run health facilities to make similar reductions.
Nineteen private health care systems in the United States have already committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
The Biden Administration has said that by 2030, the United States will aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent from 2005 levels throughout the economy. Healthcare accounts for 8.5 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services said it planned to present more details Tuesday morning in a public statement in Glasgow.
Meeting these commitments will require countries to significantly reorganize their health care sectors.
For high-income countries, that would include making the health care sector more energy efficient and less wasteful, but it would also likely require the transformation of overall power grids to supply clean energy. For low- and middle-income countries, whose populations may not have regular access to health care or where health care facilities do not have reliable power, it is likely that new and greener facilities will need to be built while expanding care medical. coverage.
In a closed-door meeting on Monday, international donors, including USAID, the World Bank and the Green Climate Fund, had an initial conversation about how they would support the commitments made by low- and middle-income countries.
“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 of Health and Medical Services, in a statement. “It has shown us that health systems and facilities are the main line of defense to protect populations from emerging threats.”