Countries must commit to decisive action at COP26 to limit global warming to 1.5°C if they want to sustain a healthy and green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new report by the World Health Organization.
“This is what a healthy recovery can look like”40 healthcare institutions representing more than 3,000 hospitals and health centres have credibly committed to halve their own emissions by 2030 under the Race to Zero.
“The evidence is overwhelming; climate change endangers human health. Solutions exist and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory,” former WHO Director General Margaret Chan commented in 2015.
But it’s not just the World Health Organization that recognizes the climate crisis is a health crisis. From hospitals to private health systems and provincial health departments, a movement is emerging that acknowledges not only the present and looming danger of climate change, but the major role that the sector itself can play in resolving it.
Healthcare’s climate footprint is equivalent to 4.4% of global net emissions (2 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent). To put that into context, if the health sector were a country it would be the fifth-largest emitter on the planet. If business as usual continues, healthcare’s climate footprint will triple between now and 2050.
In recognition of the severe health implications of climate change, nearly 40 healthcare institutions representing more than 3,000 hospitals and health centres in 18 countries have credibly committed under the Race to Zero to halve their own emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions before 2050.
Brought together by global non profit network, Health Care Without Harm, the institutions have joined the UN-backed Race to Zero in a move that marks a world-first commitment for ambitious climate action from a sector at the frontlines of the Covid-19 crisis.
“We’re thrilled that these health institutions have joined the Race to Zero. As healers on the front lines of the climate emergency, their leadership is critical to accelerating the transition to a healthier, cleaner, and more resilient zero-carbon economy,” said Gonzalo Muñoz, UN Climate Champion for Chile.
“In stepping up to join the Race to Zero, these health care institutions send a strong message that the health community is part of the solution. This is what a healthy recovery can look like,” said Maria Neira, WHO Director, Environment, Climate change and Health.
The health institutions have joined the Race to Zero through Health Care Without Harm’s Health Care Climate Challenge. The initiative aims to mobilize health care institutions around the world to play a leadership role in addressing climate change through three pillars of mitigation, resilience, and leadership.
“Joining the Race to Zero means delivering a concrete plan that will allow us to bring environmental action into our everyday work. Our goal is to care for life, through quality medicine, while caring for our planet, which is our common home,” said María Verónica Torres Cerino, Head of the Toxicology and Environment Unit at Hospital Universitario Austral, Argentina.
A roadmap to zero emissions
To support the sector in navigating this transformational change, Health Care Without Harm created a Global Road Map for Health Care Decarbonization that provides a plan and charts a course to get healthcare towards zero emissions across three pathways: healthcare delivery and operations, the global supply chain, and the broader economy.
The Road Map identifies more than 44 gigatons of emissions reduction that can be achieved over 36 years by moving the sector towards greater systems efficiency and a circular economy, while simultaneously decarbonizing healthcare-related buildings, electricity, travel, food consumption, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Achieving this cumulative reduction would be equivalent to eliminating one year of the entire world economy’s global greenhouse gas emissions output.
The report also defines how wealthier countries — where health sectors are the most prominent climate polluters — must take the most rapid action to decarbonize. And it explores how low- and middle-income countries can invest in healthcare development, such as powering energy poor health facilities with renewable energy, that takes them on a pathway to zero emissions.
To find out how you can join the Race to Zero, please click here.
For more information about the Race to Resilience, please click here.
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