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Supply chain biggest contributor to health care carbon emissions

In the first of a series of research and policy papers, international NGO 'Health Care Without Harm' and its partners, including Arup, highlights the importance of the health care supply chain, which it finds is responsible for the lion's share of emissions - a significant 71%. 


The series of papers, to be produced over the next three years, aims to define the climate footprint of health care globally and outline a set of actions the sector can take to align itself with the ambition of the Paris Agreement, whilst also achieving global health goals.


This first paper identifies that the health sector has a climate footprint equivalent to 4.4% of global net emissions or, in other words, the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 514 coal-fired power plants. The top three biggest emitters are the United States, China and, collectively, the countries of the European Union.


The UK government has recently confirmed a commitment for the UK to be zero carbon by 2050; the NHS, as the public sector's largest emitter of carbon, is expected to be an exemplar and begin to drive change. This focuses the mind on the bigger picture around energy use and management, more efficient technologies, such as LED lighting, CHP and the use of AI, however, with most of the emissions trapped within the supply chain, it is behaviour and cultural change across organisations that will make the difference. 


The paper calls for immediate steps to reduce the climate footprint of health care and challenges every organisation involved at any level in the health sector to boost the efforts being made by hospitals to achieve net zero emissions. One of the recommendations is to set and implement criteria for low-carbon or zero-emissions procurement in order to begin the process of decarbonising the supply chain.


The importance of recognising the emissions that are trapped within the supply chain was highlighted during HEFMA's Roundtable debate on energy held last year with Centrica Business Solutions. Industry professionals participating in this event recognised the need for a more holistic and cohesive approach to procurement, involving closer working practices between those who use the goods and those who buy them.


The paper concludes that health investment and policy must be retooled to support decarbonisation. "If the health sector - individual health facilities, health systems, ministries of health, international and bilateral development agencies, and private health care organisations - all take action toward this goal, it can be achieved."