The Global Road Map for Zero Emission Health Care

The first-ever guide for how the health sector can align with the Paris Agreement ambition to keep warming below 1.5 degrees

14 April 2021 - Today, Health Care Without Harm, in collaboration with Arup, will launch The Global Road Map for Health Care Decarbonization: a navigational tool for achieving zero emissions with climate resilience and health equity at the 2021 Skoll World Forum

The Road Map is the first of its kind to chart a global health care course to zero emissions by 2050. Health care’s climate footprint is already substantial, equaling 4.4% of net global emissions. Without climate action inside and outside the sector, health care’s climate emissions would more than triple to over six gigatons a year by 2050, equal to annual emissions from 770 coal-fired power plants. 

If countries can meet their Paris Agreement commitments, this could cut projected health care emissions growth by 70%, still leaving a large gap to zero emissions. The Road Map demonstrates how health care can implement seven high-impact actions to further reduce sector emissions by 44 gigatons over 36 years, equivalent to keeping more than 2.7 billion barrels of oil in the ground each year.

The Road Map also identifies distinct trajectories for health care decarbonization for different nations. Countries with large health sector GHG footprints need to reduce emissions the most rapidly and steepest. Simultaneously, those less responsible, low- and middle-income countries can implement climate-smart solutions to develop their health infrastructure while following a less steep trajectory to zero emissions.
The new Global Road Map finds that 84% of the sector’s climate emissions are from fossil fuels used across facility operations, supply chain, and the broader economy. This use includes coal, oil, and gas to power hospitals, health care-related travel, and the manufacture and transport of health care products.

“We’re experiencing the climate and health emergencies as one and the same, including increases in respiratory illness from fossil fuel pollution and those caused by dire climate impacts such as wildfires. Health care bears the brunt of these two crises while also, ironically contributing to them through its own emissions. It’s imperative for health leaders to lead by example and act now to reach zero emissions by 2050. The Road Map charts a course in that direction,” said Josh Karliner, International Director of Program and Strategy for Health Care Without Harm and the Road Map co-author.

The Road Map details national health care emission data for 68 countries and recommendations for government, international agencies, the private sector, and civil society for achieving decarbonization goals and creating better and more equitable health outcomes. Recommendations for governments include putting health care decarbonization into Nationally Determined Contribution commitments to the Paris Agreement and developing strong cross-sectoral climate policies that protect public health from climate change while supporting health care decarbonization and resilience. 

“All countries’ health systems will need to reach zero emissions by 2050 while at the same time achieving global health goals. Many health systems in low- and middle-income countries will require support from developed economies to facilitate access to the necessary solutions during this transition,” said Sonia Roschnik, International Climate Policy Director, Health Care Without Harm, and Road Map co-author.

“COVID-19 has shown how the health sector can address huge challenges at breath-taking pace when sufficiently focused and adequately supported. An even greater effort is required to address the health impacts of climate change,” said Dr. David Nabarro, WHO COVID-19 Special Envoy and Chair of Global Health and Co-Director, IGHI Imperial College London.

“As we recover from COVID-19, these health heroes can lead their sector in protecting public health from the climate crisis, just as they have taken the lead in protecting us from COVID-19. Recovery starts with transformative climate solutions,” said Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Department of Environment, Climate and Health, WHO. 

“In the race to zero emissions, climate action must go hand in hand with establishing health care climate resilience as a disaster preparedness strategy, while ending disparities in health development and access between and within countries,” said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India.

The report will be released 8:00 a.m. (PDT) April 14, 2021 during the Health Care Without Harm Skoll World Forum session. Session participants include:

Road Map authors: Josh Karliner, International Director, Program and Strategy, Health Care Without Harm, Sonia Roschnik, International Climate Policy Director, Health Care Without Harm

Panelists: Dr. David Nabarro, Special Envoy on COVID-19; WHO, Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Department of Environment, Climate and Health, WHO; Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India; Dr. Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Adviser, Global Health Directorate, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, UK

Moderators: Dr. Mandeep Dhaliwal, Director HIV, Health and Development, UNDP; Gary Cohen, President, Health Care Without Harm
Artists: Juan Felipe Herrera, United States National Poet Laureate Emeritus; Mia Kami, Musician

The full report will be available on April 14, 2021 at 8:00 a.m. PDT:

About Health Care Without Harm
Health Care Without Harm seeks to transform health care worldwide so the sector reduces its environmental footprint and becomes a leader in the global movement for environmental health and justice.