Climate change is linked to an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. This means more heat waves, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, wildfires, drought, and intense cold spells. The exacerbation of these events can have a direct or indirect effect on human health by disrupting ecosystems, agriculture, food and water quality and availability, air quality, and damaging infrastructure. In turn, the disturbance of these systems can directly affect human health by causing heat-related illnesses, infectious diseases, cardiovascular diseases, injuries, and respiratory diseases. Climate change is already contributing to the global burden of disease and premature deaths.
Climate change induced events place great burden on health systems to cope with the consequences of such events. These range from a hospital’s ability to support a flood of patients after an extreme weather event, to the potential damage to infrastructure, or the ability to control infectious diseases. The burden of responsibility that lies with health systems in the face of climate change is enormous. For this reason, strengthening public health services must be a central component of all nations’ climate change adaptation measures and policies.
Healthcare infrastructures have a large climate footprint. The approximately 15,000 hospitals across the European Union have a high demand for heating and electricity and require a large amount of energy for transport, lighting, ventilation, air conditioning, and electric and electronic equipment. Health systems are also major consumers of medical goods and equipment, which are often produced in carbon-intensive processes in the developing world under unsafe, toxic, and unregulated conditions.
Health Care Without Harm Europe's latest report presents a number of case studies of European healthcare systems implementing strategies to reduce healthcare's climate footprint, as well as an overview of the EU Climate and Energy policy landscape.
It is within the role of health systems as health stewards to make responsible decisions that guarantee both human and environmental health throughout their entire supply chain. Sustainable alternatives to health sector-related products and activities - that contribute to the mitigation of climate change, save money, and ultimately protect human health - already exist. It is merely a matter of structural transition and policy implementation.