Healthcare sector plots first global roadmap to net-zero

More than 80% of the global sector's emissions are attributable to direct and indirect fossil fuel use

The framework has been developed as part of a collaboration between consultancy Arup and Health Care Without harm and was publicly launched today (14 April) at the 2021 Skoll World Forum.

Healthcare is often thought of as a lower-carbon sector than, for example, heavy industry or aviation. But the report reveals that 4.4% of annual global emissions can be attributed to healthcare and that this proportion could grow rapidly as the sector expands in the coming decades.

The vast majority (84%) of the sector’s emissions, the report states, are from fossil fuel use. Key sources include coal, oil and gas used to power facilities like hospitals and surgeries; petrol and diesel used for ambulances and other related travel; transporting products and powering manufacturing.

The report does not provide blanket recommendations for all countries, given varying contexts in regards to renewable energy access, electric vehicle markets and so on. It recommends that developed nations, which typically are further along in the journey to renewable electricity and energy efficiency, support developing nations that are more fossil-dependent to transition their healthcare infrastructure. Such support could be embedded in the Paris Agreement’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Nations are notably being asked to update NDCs ahead of COP26.

As well as decarbonisation, the report outlines how healthcare firms can become more resilient to climate change that is already ‘locked in’ and how ‘health equity can be improved to ensure a just transition that combines social and environmental sustainability. These recommendations feed into the growing ‘green recovery’ movement.

The UN has previously warned that the world is off-track to deliver on the broad Sustainable Development Goals agenda and that Covid-19 has resulted in backwards progress on some KPIs relating to equality and healthcare.

“Covid-19 has shown how the health sector can address huge challenges at breath-taking pace when sufficiently focused and adequately supported, and an even greater effort is required to address the health impacts of climate change,” the World Health Organisation’s Special Envoy for Covid-19 Dr David Nabarro said.


Spotlight on the UK

The report goes on to detail national health care emissions data for 68 countries separately. Country-specific policy recommendations are also provided.

In the UK-related section, the report outlines how healthcare emissions account for 5.4% of the national annual GHG footprint. This makes it one of the top ten emitting nations for this sector. Virtually all healthcare-related emissions sources are above the global average. It is acknowledged that this is partly because some services, like accommodation and sanitation, are more developed.

The report details how the sector could reduce emissions by 80%, against a 1990 baseline, by 2038, putting it on track to address the remaining 20% using offsetting. Key decarbonisation drivers this decade include energy and resource efficiency, procuring net-zero technologies as standard and decarbonising transport through a mixture of EVs, efficient vehicles and digital services.

Overall, it implores the Government to publish a net-zero baseline, roadmap and detailed action map for both the NHS and the private sector as a priority. The Government is expected to publish a full net-zero plan covering all key emitting sectors ahead of COP26. Work on roadmaps for certain sectors, including transport, heat and buildings, was delayed last year amid Covid-19.

The report also states that Ministers could do more to ‘join up’ policy approaches relating to decarbonisation, climate resilience, public health and social equality within and between regions.

Sarah George


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