Is Your Healthcare Killing the Planet? Yes, Says a New Study
If the healthcare sector was a country, it would be the fifth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.
(On 20 September, climate change activist (and 16-year-old Swedish teen) Greta Thunberg called for children across the world to join her in a Global Strike for Climate Change where kids across the world are skipping school to bring the severity of the issue to the attention of the adults who can affect change. FIT is republishing this piece in light of this epic, youth-led movement.)
Is your healthcare killing the planet? Maybe, says a new report, exploring the link between climate change and the healthcare industry.
For example, did you know that if healthcare sector was a country, it would be the fifth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world?
Or that healthcare’s carbon footprint is estimated to equal a whopping 4.4% of global net emissions, which is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 514 coal-fired power plants?
These remarkable findings are courtesy a new, first of it’s kind study by Health Care Without Harm that underlines the links between the global healthcare industry and global warming.
The study finds that as an industry, healthcare is a strong contributor to rising greenhouse emissions and thus must also play a part in reversing the climate crisis.
“ The green paper on Healthcare’s Global Climate footprint highlights the need for decoupling development in the healthcare sector from greenhouse gas(GHG)emissions across the lifecycle of health care operations.”Dr Poornima Prabhakaran, Deputy Director, Centre for Environmental Health, Public Health Foundation of India
The Healthcare Sector Needs to Transition to Clean Energy
“Health sector facilities are the operational heart of service delivery, protecting health, treating patients,and saving lives. Yet health sector facilities are also a source of carbon emissions, contributing to climate change. Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease.”Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization.
The study found that in the healthcare industry, the “lion’s share of emissions — 71% — comes from the health care supply chain — the production, transport, use, and disposal of goods and services that the sector consume.” So don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s the way the industry is structured. Like other industries, healthcare too needs to step up and align its strategies with that of the Paris Agreement, finds the report.
“As human health and even survival are threatened as never before by climate change, the health sector has not only to be the conscience keeper but also the pacesetter for mitigation and adaptation. By adopting green technologies, reducing emissions and moving to green procurement practices, the health sector can support mitigation. It should also build climate resilient health care systems which can withstand the challenges of climate change and provide dependable services even in the face of climate change –related disasters and health hazards.”Dr Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India
One of the primary conclusions was that the healthcare industry needs to proactively become climate-smart, and for that “health promotion, disease prevention, universal health coverage, and the global climate goal of net-zero emissions must become intertwined.”
“Not only are doctors, nurses and health facilities all first responders to the impacts of climate change, but hospitals and health care systems paradoxically make a major contribution to the climate crisis,” said Josh Karliner, International Director of Program and Strategy for Health Care Without Harm.
India a Strong Contributor to Climate Crisis, Has More to Lose
“Though India ranks the lowest in Health-related emissions per capita [0.03 metric tons], its global contribution is at par with countries like Australia, Canada and South Korea. Compared to these countries, India is more vulnerable to looming climate change impacts and this could imminently impact our climate footprint as well reverse or stall decades of progress we have made in public health.”Dr Alex Thomas, President at Association of Healthcare Providers - India
The study found that a country’s health care industry’s climate footprint generally follows their overall national emissions, however it also revealed that despite India having the seventh-largest absolute health sector climate footprint, it has the lowest health-related emissions per capita of all 43 nations from the study.
In other words, although India has high healthcare related emissions they make up only 1.5% of our total climate footprint.
However, we are taking steps to rectify this, as Dr Thomas says, “ The state of Chhattisgarh has showed us how roof-top solar PV systems in PHCs can help reduce carbon emission, eliminate inefficiency as well as be a reliable power source during extreme weather events.”
He added that, “The remaining states in our country should also follow suit, aiming at zero carbon emissions for a healthy planet. Furthermore, our public and private hospitals should also pursue climate smart strategies to not only be ready at all times to combat eventualities but also not be a contributor to climate change in any way."
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