Government action

Policy for climate and health

Momentum is building toward net-zero, climate-resilient health care

While the private and public sectors need to take climate action, the scale of the crisis requires in-depth, long-lasting, and rapid decarbonization carried out by government policy, laws, and regulations across all sectors. The health care sector is no exception, with a global greenhouse gas contribution of 4.4%. More than 60 governments, making up more than 47% of net global health care emissions, have committed to low-carbon, climate resilient health systems.

Health Care Without Harm is working with several governments in high and low-middle income countries to support and model the implementation of net zero, climate resilient health systems. In 2021, Health Care Without Harm played a leadership role in founding the COP26 Health Programme alongside the Conference of the Parties (COP) Presidency, the WHOGreener NHS, and the UNFCCC Climate Champions team.

The Programme aims to build more robust country ambitions on climate emissions reduction and resilience with a leading cohort of health ministries committed to health care climate action. The two commitment areas are:

At the Programme’s launch, over 50 ministries of health committed to these goals. In 2022, The Programme evolved to help guide the implementation of the pledges and is now the Alliance on Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH). 

As of February 2023, 63 countries committed to one or both of the commitment areas of this initiative, with 23 committing to a net zero target. ATACH facilitates the WHO Member States and other stakeholders to advance implementation and integrate climate change and health nexus into national, regional, and global plans. Four working groups provide guidance and an opportunity for health ministry to work and learn from each other.

  • Financing the Health Commitments on Climate Resilient and Sustainable Low Carbon Health Systems.

  • Climate Resilient Health Systems.

  • Low Carbon Sustainable Health Systems.

  • Supply chains

Health Care Without Harm participates in all working groups and co-chairs, along with the government of Fiji, the Low-carbon Sustainable Health Systems working group. 

The urgency of the climate crisis has spurred more health ministries and government institutions to advance on the road to health care decarbonization and resilience. In addition to the countries involved in ATACH, G7 health ministers declared their aim “to build environmentally sustainable and climate-neutral health systems at the latest by 2050 and to support other countries in this effort.” The G7 comprises 41% of global health care climate emissions. Its parallel commitment to ATACH brings the total percentage of health emissions slated for decarbonization to almost 48% of all global health emissions.

Governments advancing implementation 

In 2022, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection of the Republic of Colombia and Health Care Without Harm signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to estimate the climate footprint of the Colombian national health system at the facility level.

The project has three main components:

  • Identifying a representative sample of hospitals and health centers in the Colombian health system.

  • Training health institution teams using Health Care Without Harm’s Climate Impact Checkup GHG calculator.

  • Technical support to help the institutions determine the size and composition of their climate footprint.

The data obtained from this pilot will be analyzed to estimate greenhouse gas emissions from the Colombian health sector at the national level. Based on the findings, a series of specific recommendations will help develop a Comprehensive Sectoral Climate Change Management Plan (PIGCCS) for the Colombian health sector. With the completion of the project, Colombia will be the first country in Latin America to estimate the GHG footprint of its national health system, including both public and private institutions.

Health Care Without Harm is working with several G7 governments and health systems to support the implementation of the commitments made at COP26 and the G7 declaration. Through Operation Zero, Health Care Without Harm is working closely with several EU governments, The Netherlands, the Lazio region in Italy, and Portugal, to develop the methodology and tools to measure their health system GHG emissions and design road maps to reach zero emissions.

The government of Argentina included a commitment to estimate its health system’s emissions and define reduction measures in its Nationally Determined Contribution. England’s NHS has developed a plan to get to net-zero by 2040. The state of Chhattisgarh in India is investing in solar power for all its hospitals and health centers. These leadership actions indicate that climate-smart health care policies and actions are emerging on every continent and are viable and achievable.

International agencies are essential in supporting national and subnational governments to make emission reduction commitments. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has developed a set of climate pathways that outline the sectoral visions for a 1.5-degree climate-resilient world by 2050 and the actions needed to achieve that future. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides policy and technical guidance to ministries of health, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where the transition to low carbon health care and resilience must occur in unison with addressing urgent health needs, including Universal Health Coverage. Numerous bilateral and multilateral development cooperation agencies are beginning to invest in transforming health care to meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

Solutions in action & resources

Launch of the Alliance on Transformative Action on Climate and Health to drive the implementation of the COP26 Health Programme

This new initiative will coordinate and implement actions around the commitments on climate resilient and low carbon sustainable health systems adopted by countries during the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

The COP26 Health Programme was launched in November 2021 with the goal of enabling transformational change to protect the health of people and the planet. As of today, 59 countries have committed at the Ministry of Health level to this initiative, which was launched by the UK government as the Presidency of COP26, the World Health Organization (WHO), Health Care Without Harm, and the UNFCCC Climate Champions.

Over 50 countries commit to COP26 Health Programme

As one of three partners of the COP26 Health Programme, together with the COP26 Presidency and the World Health Organization, Health Care Without Harm has been working to encourage countries to develop climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems. On November 9, 2021, at the COP26, 50 countries announced their commitment. Josh Karliner, International Director of Program and Strategy of Health Care Without Harm, explains the significance of these health care climate actions and this historic moment.

Countries commit to develop climate-smart health care at COP26 UN climate conference

A group of 50 countries have committed to develop climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), in response to growing evidence of the impact of climate change on people’s health.

The governments of these 50 countries, which include some of those most vulnerable to the health harms caused by climate change as well as some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, have committed to take concrete steps towards creating climate-resilient health systems. 

COP26 Health Programme: Country commitments to build climate resilient and sustainable health systems

An overview of the COP26 Health Programme initiative's commitments for climate resilient health systems, sustainable low carbon health systems and the process for recording/tracking commitments.

Key considerations for the incorporation of a health perspective in NDCs

This policy brief identifies some of the main elements for incorporating a comprehensive health perspective in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) presented by countries as climate action commitments under the Paris Agreement. Its goal is to guide national governments in developing or updating NDCs in incorporating key considerations which would enable mobilizing the health sector to tackle the climate crisis.

Argentina becomes first country to include health care decarbonization in its global climate commitment

In 2020, Argentina became the first country to include health care sector decarbonization commitments in its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to the Paris Agreement. In addition to several adaption measures, Argentina’s NDC calls for an assessment of health care sector greenhouse gas emissions and the establishment of emission reduction actions as a priority for implementing its NDCs.