In an opinion analysis published today at Think Global Health, a publication from the Council on Foreign Relations, Diana Picon Manyari, Health Care Without Harm’s International Climate Director, examines different actions taking place at a global level to contribute to the decarbonization of the health care sector.
The sector is one of the leading greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters: if the global health care sector were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter in the world. But it is also in a unique position to push for a change: “[It] is increasing its understanding of how its activities contribute to climate change,” says Picon Manyari in the article.
She revisits some of the international policies and commitments in play to aid the decarbonization of the operations for health care delivery. A pivotal moment was in 2021, with the launch of the COP26 Health Programme. This framework, developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the COP26 presidency from the United Kingdom, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Health Care Without Harm, was developed to help countries achieve climate resilient and low carbon sustainable health systems.
To date, 82 countries have signed up for the COP26 Health Programme, which later evolved into the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH), a community of practice that provides technical assistance and a learning network and platform to the countries that joined the Programme.
According to the article, other actions, including the COP28 Health Declaration, the G20 inter-ministerial declaration, and a possible new World Health Assembly resolution, could help more ministries of health join ATACH and the efforts to build low-carbon and resilient health systems.
Finally, Picon Manyari compares the differential actions high, middle, and low-income countries can undertake to tackle the rise in health care emissions while ensuring a just and universal access to health care.
“An efficient, effective, and quality expansion of health services can and should be done sustainably and equitably—with services that do not further harm the health of communities. These efforts need to be accompanied by transformative actions. Low and middle-income countries should continue to advocate for higher-income countries (many of whom are the largest emitters in health care) to support adaptation efforts given the latter’s role in climate change—but also advocate for high emitters mitigation efforts and a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy”, she concludes.