Climate Action

LET’S DISCUSS: Healthcare & Climate

Did YOU know that healthcare produces 4% of all UK carbon emissions, & matches the emissions from the pre-COVID UK aviation industry?

Bob Soin, an Associate with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare and a laparoscopic surgeon of 30 years, talks to Planetary to provide the facts surrounding healthcare and the climate crisis, and explains why he’s taking steps to reverse some of the damage he feels his role in helping patients has inevitably caused, and ensure the heatlhcare system accounts for climate it it’s future…

The Facts:

  • The NHS currently accounts for around 4 per cent of all UK greenhouse gas emissions –
    similar in scale to the airline industry (The King’s Fund 2020)
  • Health care’s climate footprint is equivalent to 4.4% of global net emissions (2 gigatons of
    carbon dioxide equivalent). (Healthcare Without Harm 2019)
  • The future offers a world where health interventions will not just be assessed on efficacy
    and cost but also their environmental impact.
  • In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued an alarming report which found that staving off the worst impacts of climate change by limiting global warming to 1.5°C, the ambition of the Paris Agreement, would “require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Such change, according to the IPCC, would need to include transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities, that reduced global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) “by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050”.
  • All countries will experience significant and growing health impacts from climate change. Low- and middle- income countries will see the worst effects as they are most vulnerable to climate shifts and least able to adapt given weak health systems and poor infrastructure. Climate change could drag more than 100 million people back into extreme poverty by 2030.
  • From a study across 43 countries healthcare systems worldwide:
    – The top three emitters, the United States, China, and collectively the countries of the
    European Union, comprise more than half the world’s total health care climate footprint
    –  The top ten health care emitters make up 75% of the global health care climate
  • The United States health sector, the world’s number one emitter in both absolute and per capita terms, produces 57 times more emissions per person than does India. While India has the seventh-largest absolute health sector climate footprint, it has the lowest health-related emissions per capita of all 43 nations considered in detail in this study.
  • China’s health sector produces six times more greenhouse gases per person than India’s does. But China’s health system also emits one-seventh the greenhouse gases per capita as that off the United States, one- third that of Korea and just under one-half per capita that of the European Union.
  • Emissions emanating directly from health care facilities and health care owned vehicles make up 17% of the sector’s worldwide footprint.
  • Indirect emissions from purchased energy sources such as electricity, steam, cooling, and heating comprise another 12%.
  • The lion’s share of emissions — 71% are primarily derived from the health care supply chain through the production, transport, and disposal of goods and services, such as pharmaceuticals and other chemicals, food and agricultural products, medical devices, hospital equipment, and instruments.
  • Three-quarters of all health care emissions, including from its supply chain, are generated domestically. This means roughly one-quarter of all health care emissions are generated outside of the country where the health care product is ultimately consumed.

Why is this important?

Health care is a major contributor to the climate crisis, with the global health care climate footprint currently equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions  from 514 coal-fired power plants.The highest contributions to the global health care climate footprint come from the United States (546 million metric tons of CO2e), China (342 MtCO2e), and the European Union (248 MtCO2e), but health care emissions make up a varying percentage of each country’s climate footprint (range US 7.6% – India 1.5%). This presents a major challenge for the current and next generation of climate scientists, engineers and activists to change and in establishing how this range can be narrowed and reduced across the globe.

Read more about Bob Soin here!

Posted by Claire Edwards 27 January 2021

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