Portugal has developed a national decarbonisation plan for its healthcare sector, putting them on a path towards net zero emissions by 2050. Working closely with HCWH Europe and Arup via Operation Zero, Portugal’s Central Administration of the Health System has calculated its carbon footprint and developed a concrete plan towards zero emissions.
Operation Zero supports national and regional health authorities when designing net zero roadmaps for their healthcare systems by providing a consistent, tested methodology. The project’s vision is that every European country develops a Paris-compatible decarbonisation roadmap for its healthcare sector.
Healthcare’s climate footprint
Worldwide, the healthcare sector’s climate footprint is equivalent to 4.4% of global net emissions. If it were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter in the world. The European Union is the third largest contributor to global healthcare emissions (behind the US and China), accounting for 12% of global healthcare emissions.
In Portugal, the healthcare sector has a climate footprint of 3.92mt CO2e, representing approximately 5.8% of total national emissions. Most of the Portuguese health system's emissions are Scope 3 - from activities not directly under the sector’s control (86%), such as the production of purchased materials. This is a common trend across all healthcare systems and one of the largest source of emissions in healthcare.
A roadmap to zero emissions healthcare
Portugal is committed to addressing these emissions and setting an example for other countries worldwide. Using an emissions baseline of 2014, it aims to achieve a 29% reduction in healthcare emissions by 2030 and 70% by 2050.
Portugal is also undertaking a series of actions to tackle emissions hotspots and accelerate the decarbonisation of its healthcare sector. Healthcare providers are encouraged to prioritise providers with low carbon footprints, particularly when procuring chemicals and pharmaceuticals, as their manufacturing presents a significant proportion of emissions. Throughout the public health system, Portugal is also mandating an increase in the use of renewable energy and a reduction in water and material use.
“We believe it is a priority to take action and address our healthcare sector’s contribution to climate change. Working in partnership with HCWH Europe allows us to better understand the climate impact of the Portuguese health sector and develop a clear plan to mitigate future emissions. Through our work on Operation Zero, we were not only able to develop a decarbonisation roadmap but also analyse and discuss possible challenges and opportunities for achieving a net zero health sector.”
- Sofia Coutinho, Head of the Facilities and Equipment Unit - Central Administration of the Health System (Portugal)
“Portugal has demonstrated critical leadership by developing an action plan to drive its healthcare sector to zero emissions. We call on all other countries in Europe and beyond to follow their lead. Achieving a net zero and climate-resilient healthcare system is not only possible but also essential to protect public health and prepare the sector for climate change impacts.”
- Will Clark, Executive Director - HCWH Europe