More than 40 nations are committed to reducing emissions from their healthcare industries

More than 40 nations are committed to reducing emissions from their healthcare industries

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More than 40 countries have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their health systems, World Health Organization officials said late Monday.

“This announcement is huge,” said Josh Karliner, international director of programs and strategy for Health Care Without Harm, a nonprofit committed to reducing the environmental impact of healthcare. It aims to put the industry on a path towards “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions, he said, and “which implies fundamentally changing the way healthcare is delivered”.

The governments of 42 countries have announced that they will reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that warms the world, in their health systems. Twelve countries have committed to zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

The pledges came from high-income countries including the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, as well as several low and middle-income countries already hardest hit by the effects of climate change, such as the Bahamas, Fiji and the Maldives.

The health sector accounts for almost five percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. If it were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter.

Many of the commitments are initial commitments that need to be backed up with further details to help achieve the goals.

Public health is a higher priority at the world climate summit in Glasgow this week than at any previous United Nations climate change conference. For the first time there is a dedicated health pavilion and a series of panels, speeches and lectures on the effects of climate change on health.

These included emotional requests from mothers of children who suffered from air pollution, including Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who spoke to Alok Sharma, chairman of the conference, on Friday and whose death from asthma was attributed to air pollution. New technologies were also presented, including the introduction of an emission-free ambulance.

There is already extensive research showing that climate change is contributing to a wide variety of health risks around the world. It exacerbates heat waves, intensifies forest fires, increases the risk of flooding and aggravates droughts. These in turn are increasing heat-related mortality, pregnancy complications and cardiovascular diseases. And as with many things to do with the climate, the risks and damage are particularly great where they are least able to react.

The United States, responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from the health sector, has joined the commitment to clean up its health sector. Admiral Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the government will reduce emissions in federal health facilities, which could include those from the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and provide incentives and guidance and support for privately owned healthcare facilities to make similar cuts.

Nineteen private health systems in the United States have already committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

The Biden administration has announced that by 2030, the United States will seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the economy by 50 to 52 percent from 2005 levels. Healthcare is responsible for 8.5 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The Federal Office of Health and Human Services said it plans to provide more details in a public statement in Glasgow on Tuesday morning.

In order to meet these commitments, countries will have to significantly upgrade their health sectors.

For high-income countries, this would mean making the health sector more energy efficient and less wasteful, but it would also likely require the conversion of all energy networks to provide clean energy. For low- and middle-income countries, whose populations may not have regular access to health care, or where health facilities lack reliable energy, it will likely require the construction of new and greener facilities at the same time as the expansion of health coverage.

In a closed meeting on Monday, international donors including USAID, the World Bank and the Green Climate Fund held an initial discussion on how they would support the commitments of low and middle income countries.

“Amid the pandemic, we had to recover from extreme weather events and cope with the resulting health effects,” Ifereimi Waqainabete, Fiji’s Minister of Health and Medical Services, said in a statement. It “showed us that health systems and facilities are the primary line of defense in protecting the population from emerging threats”.

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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