Health and Healthcare Systems

Protecting the planet and its people: healthcare's climate action roadmap

Ambulance speeding at night in New York City - motion blur panning action

Healthcare's carbon footprint is contributing to patients' ill health. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

Gonzalo Muñoz
Co-Founder, TriCiclos
Josh Karliner
International Director for Program and Strategy, Health Care Without Harm
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Health and Healthcare Systems?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how SDG 13: Climate Action is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

SDG 13: Climate Action

Listen to the article

  • The healthcare sector contributes more than 4.4% of net global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Global Road Map for Health Care Decarbonization, outlines actions to reduce the sector’s global emissions and provide healthcare recommendations.
  • Commitment is needed from healthcare institutions and governments around the world.

For more than a year, the world’s doctors, nurses, hospitals and health systems have been on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19. Many have served heroically as first responders, care givers, truth tellers and anchors of resilience in communities beset by the pandemic.

Have you read?

A growing number of these leaders are now recognizing and speaking out about another major health crisis that looms on the horizon. The growing climate emergency threatens to make the COVID-19 pandemic pale by comparison – impacting the health and well-being of nearly everyone across the globe for generations to come.

Ironically, healthcare, whose mission it is to heal, is a major contributor to this crisis that is making the planet and the people who inhabit it sick. Healthcare contributes more than 4.4% of net global greenhouse gas emissions, making the sector (if it were a country) the fifth largest climate polluter on the planet.

Image: Health Care Without Harm.

Responding to this paradox, and despite the pressures of the pandemic, hospitals and health systems around the world are increasingly recognizing that the healthcare must step up and do its part to protect people’s health from climate change, and that the time for action is now.

Hospitals and health systems committed to net-zero

In the vanguard of the healthcare response are nearly 40 institutions collectively representing more than 3,000 healthcare facilities in 17 countries, who have just joined the UNFCCC’s Race to Zero. These hospitals and health systems have made public commitments to halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero no later than 2050.

This first wave of Race to Zero healthcare institutions spans six continents and represents diverse organizations including individual hospitals, private health systems, and provincial health departments from both developed and developing countries. They are showing that you can deliver care and take on climate change at the same time. They are articulating a vision of healthy people on a healthy planet.

Hospitals and health systems have made public commitments to halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero no later than 2050.

Gonzalo Muñoz and Josh Karliner.

They join other Race to Zero members already in the campaign totaling over 4,000, including regions, cities, companies, universities, and investors, making up over 15% of the global economy. The UN Race to Zero initiative is the largest ever alliance outside of national governments committed to reducing climate pollution.

The Race to Zero healthcare cohort is also part of a broader movement led by the NGO and UNFCCC Race to Zero partner, Health Care Without Harm, of thousands more hospitals working for healthcare climate action. Leadership from these non-state actors is critical to accelerating the transition to a healthier, cleaner, and more resilient zero-carbon economy.

Government action is needed

Leadership from national governments is also essential. The UNFCCC Climate Champions, Health Care Without Harm and the World Health Organization are also working together with the UK government, which will host COP26 in Glasgow in November, to encourage national governments’ health systems to make similar commitments to both decarbonization and resilience.

Our aim at the Glasgow climate conference, is to have a leading cohort of health ministries committed to healthcare climate action together with a growing movement of hospitals and health systems doing the same via Race to Zero. Together they can begin to put the healthcare sector on a trajectory to align with the ambition of the Paris Agreement of keeping global temperature increase at or below 1.5 degrees.

Discover

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

The pandemic has provided us with a harrowing understanding of what a multidimensional crisis on a planetary scale looks like. It has shed a harsh light on the profound inequalities in health and healthcare access within and between countries. COVID-19 has also highlighted the imperative to strengthen and transform our health systems to become more equitable, to be prepared for and to help prevent both future pandemics as well as the greatest global health threat of the 21st century, climate change.

The hospitals and health systems joining Race to Zero are showing it can be done. It is now imperative that the health sector seize this moment and provide the climate leadership the world so desperately needs.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Health and Healthcare SystemsClimate Action
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How clean energy solutions at home and in health facilities can greatly benefit child health

Kitty van der Heijden

June 21, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum