Seven European countries commit to developing climate resilient, sustainable low-carbon health systems

AmbulanceSeven European countries have submitted formal commitments to the COP26 Presidency to strengthen the climate resilience and sustainability of their health systems. Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom have announced country commitments under the COP26 Health Programme. Together they represent almost 60% of all healthcare emissions across the European Union and the United Kingdom. The typical European country spends nearly 10% of its GDP on healthcare provision, meaning the sector has significant economic influence and can play a key role in reducing national CO2 emissions.

Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is playing a leadership role in the COP26 Health Programme, working with the COP Presidency (via the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office - FCDO), the WHO, the Greener NHS team, and the UNFCCC Climate Champions team. Together, we’re working to support national governments to make commitments to healthcare resilience and decarbonisation. 

Globally, 50 countries have committed to developing climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26). Of these, 45 countries (accounting for over a third of global healthcare emissions - 35%) have committed to developing sustainable, low carbon health systems. This includes 14 countries, including Belgium, Spain, and the United Kingdom, which have set a target date to reach net-zero emissions from their health system by 2050 or earlier.

​Will Clark, Executive Director - HCWH Europe says: “These national commitments are a massive step forward and could be a watershed moment in the fight to safeguard public health from the impacts of climate change. They reflect a realisation of the effect of climate change on health and health systems, as well as the role the healthcare sector can play in addressing the climate crisis. We now need to see these commitments backed up by supporting policies and a mobilisation of resources. The science is clear; the case has been made. Now is the time for action.”

Following COP26, HCWH intends to support national governments to follow through on their healthcare climate commitments. HCWH Europe is partnering with three national and regional health authorities to develop and pilot a new methodology that can be applied by any health ministry to produce a net-zero decarbonisation roadmap for their healthcare system. 

In the long term, this project, Operation Zero, aims to put the European healthcare sector on the path to net-zero carbon emissions, in line with European and international climate commitments. Doing so will make a major contribution to reducing both the environmental and health impacts of climate change.

Among the countries that have made a commitment under the COP26 Health Programme, the Netherlands (via their Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) are already piloting the Operation Zero methodology and working to generate their own detailed healthcare climate footprint analysis. The Department of Epidemiology Lazio regional health service (Italy) and the Central Administration of the Health System (Portugal) have also joined Operation Zero

Hugo de Jonge, Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands and Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport says: “We share the opinion that the health sector must do its part to reduce global warming and to prepare itself for the changes that are to come because the climate crisis is also a health crisis. Therefore, the Netherlands is proud to join the World Health Organization and other countries in the call for building climate resilient and sustainable health systems.”

See the full list of countries