Healthcare urged to strive for net zero carbon economy
A new joint commentary by EASAC and FEAM, representing European Academies of Science and Medicine, emphasises the responsibility of the health sector to reduce its own GHG emissions, and work with other sectors to accelerate decarbonisation.
The growing and potentially disastrous effects of climate change on mental and physical health – including increased exposure to extreme heat, floods and droughts; the effect of declining crop yields on nutrition, and increasing incidence of vector-borne diseases – have come more into focus in recent years. They imply significantly increasing and unforeseen challenges for healthcare.
Ironically, the health sector itself is responsible for 5% of European greenhouse gas emissions and thus contributes to an increasingly unhealthy future, unless it takes action quickly.
“With healing as its mission, the healthcare sector has good reasons to become a leader in climate solutions. In some countries, we already see pioneering initiatives by the health sector to cut its carbon footprint,” explained Prof. Volker ter Meulen, chair of EASAC’s Biosciences Programme.
The commentary builds on further analysis by the Academies since publication of the EASAC report “The imperative of climate action to protect human health in Europe” in June 2019. While the initial report focused on health impacts from climate change, the scientists now emphasise the responsibility of the health sector to lead by example, by reducing its own GHG emissions, and work with other sectors to accelerate decarbonisation of the wider economy.
“Decarbonising the health sector will not only help the climate,” added Robin Fears, director of EASAC’s Biosciences Programme. “We see significant opportunities from green procurement, greener spaces and better building structures, through to healthier patient diets based on sustainably grown food, and digital health and other innovative models of patient care. These mitigation measures within health care systems can encourage more efficient use of resources and bring local and near-term benefits to health.”
“Tackling climate change should be seen as integral part of the sector’s mission to provide high quality patient care and to promote public health,” commented Andrew Haines, Professor of Environmental Change and Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “This also implies shifting focus from cure to prevention, including by addressing social, environmental and economic causes of diseases. Supporting people to make healthier and more sustainable choices has the potential to reduce the need for hospital visits.”
EASAC and FEAM commented that they welcomed the increasingly ambitious decarbonisation targets of the EU. However, they regretted that, so far, the healthcare sector has rarely been included in discussions about decarbonisation at European level. They see a big opportunity for the EU to be more involved in health issues and provide recommendations as to how to promote such initiatives.
“Ambitions of the health sector should drive and be driven by coordinated policy action at the EU level, for example building on current initiatives by the European Commission for sustainable public procurement and the pharmaceutical strategy,” concluded FEAM President Prof. George Griffin.
The commentary will be presented and discussed during a public event on 10 May at 2 pm CET. Register for the webinar here.