The healthcare sector must seize the opportunity to address its own contribution to climate change and the impact of climate change on public health. That means reducing its own emissions to net zero and adapting now so our health systems are prepared for the new pressures climate change will inevitably create.
Climate change is the greatest public health threat of the 21st century. The health impacts of climate change are complex and include illness, death, and injury due to extreme temperatures and weather events, changes in infectious disease vectors, increases in water borne illnesses, and wide-ranging impacts from air pollution. The WHO estimates that climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress between 2030 and 2050.
There is little doubt - the climate crisis is a health crisis.
“First, do no harm” - that is the driving ethos of the healthcare system. But the very sector that is tasked with protecting patients from climate-related public health issues, is also a major contributor to climate change itself. The healthcare sector is responsible for 4.4% of global net emissions. If it were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter on the planet. Although the US and China are the largest contributors to global healthcare emissions, the European Union follows closely contributing 12% of global healthcare emissions.
Built on three pillars (mitigation, resilience and leadership), our vision is to transform the European healthcare sector into a net zero carbon and climate resilient sector that protects public health from climate change, and accelerates the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Goals of the Climate-smart Healthcare programme:
- Decarbonise the healthcare sector
- Increase resilience to climate change
- Increase climate advocacy by healthcare leaders
For the healthcare sector, tackling climate change is a challenge that must be tackled on two fronts. Firstly, the sector must take responsibility for the impacts that its own emissions are having on our health, and take action to decarbonise in line with the Paris Agreement. This includes reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and leveraging its significant buying power (10% of GDP in Europe) to reduce the emissions in its supply chain. Secondly, as a frontline service tasked with treating the health impacts of climate change, the healthcare sector must understand climate risks and account for them in business plans, recognising the co-benefits of both mitigation and resilience actions.
Furthermore, healthcare professionals can be powerful advocates for change, influencing policymakers and other sectors. Their voices are particularly powerful, with nurses and doctors consistently recognised as the most trusted professionals. A key component of our work therefore aims to mobilise healthcare professionals to use this trusted voice in educating colleagues, patients, the public, and policymakers.
Other activities in our Climate-smart Healthcare programme include working with strategic partners to influence policy in Europe, supporting national governments in developing healthcare decarbonisation roadmaps, working with hospitals to improve their carbon management and resilience practices, and providing crucial networking opportunities for healthcare professionals through our annual European Healthcare Climate Summit.