Australian governments must develop policies and take action to help the health sector cut its greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report.
The report, produced by Health Care Without Harm and Arup and launched on Friday, outlines ways that the health sector can fully decarbonise in an equitable way.
Even if the world’s governments meet their Paris Agreement commitments up to 2017, health care’s annual global climate footprint will continue to increase, the paper noted.
The report found that Australia’s health sector produces 5-7% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions every year, while Australia’s healthcare per capita greenhouse gas emissions are the third highest out of 68 countries.
The paper has proposed that the Australian health sector drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and reach net zero by around 2042 through actions such as:
- Powering healthcare with 100% renewable energy,
- Investing in zero emissions buildings and infrastructure,
- Transitioning to zero emissions transport,
- Providing healthy and sustainably grown food,
- Producing low-carbon pharmaceutical products,
- Implementing circular and sustainable healthcare waste management,
- Improving effectiveness of the health system
The health sector is one of the biggest polluting sectors in Australia, and must play its part in cutting emissions, according to Climate and Health Alliance sustainable healthcare program manager and Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Pacific region coordinator Carol Behne.
“This road map shows how the health sector can achieve zero emissions and uphold its moral imperative to ‘do no harm’. Many health institutions in Australia are working to reduce their emissions, and this road map provides a comprehensive guide for how to rapidly scale this up,” she said.
However, government policy must “guide and help accelerate these efforts”, she said.
Behne noted that state and territory governments have committed to net zero by 2050, but don’t have clear plans to get the health sector to net zero as the UK’s National Health Service has done.
The report has recommended that Australian governments take action by:
- Issuing a declaration that the climate crisis is a health emergency and requires concerted national and global action.
- Developing national and/or subnational road maps and action plans for health care decarbonisation, and establishing the systems and capacity to measure and track health care’s climate footprint at the national, subnational, and facilities level.
- Making zero emissions commitments.
- Including health care in nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement.
- Taking legislative, regulatory, and financial action to help accelerate decarbonisation and climate readiness in both public and private health care operations.
- Developing health care climate leadership at all levels.
- Putting health into national and subnational climate policy, by creating policies that protect public health from climate change while supporting health care decarbonisation and resilience.
The launch of the paper follows similar calls for action. Last month the Australian Medical Association and Doctors for the Environment Australia urged the Australian health sector to reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2040. Earlier this week the Climate Council released a report arguing that Australia should go one step further by reaching net zero by 2035.
Behne noted that a number of Australian health services, including Hunter New England Local Health District, Ambulance Victoria, and UnitingCare Queensland, have announced their own carbon reduction targets.
“We want to see a national commitment to implementing the road map strategies across all health services,” she said.