According to the 2018 International Panel on Climate Change report, we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and get to net-zero emissions by 2050 to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. While this will be difficult, we are seeing momentum build around the world with countries, states, and cities setting net-zero goals. In the United States, the Biden-Harris Administration rejoined the Paris Agreement and named climate – along with COVID-19, racism, and a just, sustainable economic recovery – as a top priority.
In November, world governments will meet in Glasgow, Scotland for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26. This meeting marks five years from the Paris Agreement and countries are expected to make new, more ambitious commitments to decarbonize. The health care sector makes up 4.4% of the global carbon footprint and 8.5% of the U.S. footprint.
Health care has been at the center of the response to both the COVID-19 and climate crises. As the world emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, the health care sector has an opportunity to play a role in societal healing by addressing the sector’s climate footprint and ensuring its resilience to climate impacts. Plus, we are starting to see clear signs of sector leadership.
On Earth Day 2020, Providence health system – a Catholic health system with 51 hospitals operating in eight states – announced a goal to be carbon negative by 2030. Last October, the National Health Service of England announced a goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2045. In December 2020, Argentina became the first government in the world to include health care decarbonization in its Nationally Determined Contribution, calling for an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from their health care sector, and the establishment of measures to reduce those emissions as a priority action.
In May, Health Care Without Harm will announce the first hospitals and health care systems to join the Race to Zero, a cross-sectoral, global campaign to build momentum in the private sector in the lead up to COP26. Race to Zero is the high bar commitment of the Health Care Climate Challenge, an initiative to mobilize health care institutions around the world to protect public health from climate change. The Climate Challenge currently has 300 participants, representing the interests of more than 22,000 hospitals and health centers in 34 countries that have committed to reducing their carbon footprints, preparing their facilities and communities for climate impacts, and using health care’s voice to educate the public and policymakers about climate change, health, and equity.
As the world begins to address climate change with the urgency needed, health care has a critical role to play in meeting decarbonization goals to protect the health of people and the planet.