HCWH’s new global road map for zero emissions healthcare

Front cover of the Road MapHealth Care Without Harm, in collaboration with Arup, has launched its Global Road Map for Health Care Decarbonization: a navigational tool for achieving zero emissions with climate resilience and health equity on April 14 at the 2021 Skoll World Forum. 

The Road Map is the first of its kind to chart a global healthcare course to zero emissions by 2050. Healthcare’s climate footprint is substantial, equaling 4.4% of net global emissions. Without climate action inside and outside the sector, healthcare’s climate emissions would more than triple to over six gigatons a year by 2050, equal to the annual emissions from 770 coal-fired power plants. 

“We’re experiencing the climate and health emergencies as one and the same, including increases in respiratory illness from fossil fuel pollution and those caused by dire climate impacts such as wildfires. Healthcare bears the brunt of these two crises while also, ironically, contributing to them through its own emissions. It’s imperative for health leaders to lead by example and act now to reach zero emissions by 2050. The Road Map charts a course in that direction.”

Josh Karliner, international director of program and strategy, Health Care Without Harm, and co-author of the Road Map

If countries can meet their Paris Agreement commitments, this could cut projected healthcare emissions growth by 70%, still leaving a large gap to zero emissions. The Road Map demonstrates how healthcare can implement seven high-impact actions to further reduce sector emissions by 44 gigatons over 36 years, equivalent to keeping more than 2.7 billion barrels of oil in the ground each year. 

The Road Map also identifies distinct trajectories for healthcare decarbonisation for different nations. Countries with large health sector carbon footprints need to reduce emissions the most rapidly and steepest. Simultaneously, those less responsible, low- and middle-income countries, can implement climate-smart solutions to develop their health infrastructure while following a less steep trajectory to zero emissions.

The new Global Road Map finds that 84% of the sector’s climate emissions are from fossil fuels used across facility operations, supply chain, and the broader economy. This use includes coal, oil, and gas to power hospitals, healthcare-related travel, and the manufacture and transport of healthcare products.

“The Road Map shows the only way forward – the healthcare sector needs to leverage its power to demand a transition to a low-carbon economy and push manufacturers and suppliers to innovate low carbon products and solutions.”

Charlotta Brask, Director of Social Sustainability and Strategy Region Stockholm and Chairperson of the European Healthcare Climate Council

In line with the Road Map’s recommendations, HCWH Europe has launched Operation Zero, a groundbreaking initiative that seeks to put the European healthcare sector on the path to net-zero emissions, in line with European and international climate commitments.

Operation Zero will build on the Road Map, and aims to produce the most comprehensive overview of the European healthcare sector’s carbon footprint to date, as well as create a methodology that can be applied by any national healthcare system that supports the production of national decarbonisation roadmaps to net-zero emissions for healthcare, which will be piloted in four European countries.

Read the full Road Map report and its country factsheets

Find out more about Operation Zero