"A larger chunk of carbon emissions are from the development, transportation, use and disposal of the equipment we rely on: including drugs, surgical equipment and face masks. Green purchasing can sharply reduce emissions," writes Anand Bhopal and Sara Soraya Eriksen.

Healthcare workers are raising the alarm:
We need zero-carbon healthcare

OPINION: Last year, England launched a zero-carbon health system strategy, inspiring a global movement. With an election on the horizon, it is time for Norway to decide whether we are in or out.

Climate change is «widespread, rapid, and intensifying» requiring immediate and deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to stay within the Paris Agreement, according to the latest warning from the IPCC.

Scientists have now found that that healthcare’s carbon footprint is actually much bigger than we thought. It's twice the size of flying, and it's rising. Most emissions coming from rich countries, and Norway is no exception. We knew health would be a casualty of climate change; it turns out we are also part of the problem.

Low-hanging fruit

What can be done? Thankfully, there are plenty of low-hanging fruit which can cut carbon at no cost.

  • Some anaesthetic gases, used in surgery, and inhalers, for asthma and lung disease, can be switched for low-carbon alternatives.
  • Public health interventions such as promoting walking and cycling and healthier eating which can cut emissions, reduce disease and improve wellbeing.
  • A larger chunk of carbon emissions are from the development, transportation, use and disposal of the equipment we rely on: including drugs, surgical equipment and face masks. Green purchasing can sharply reduce emissions.

Low-carbon options may not always be the low-cost option. However, as the pandemic has made clear, there are some things that money can’t buy.

Healthcare workers are raising the alarm

Reducing carbon emissions in healthcare does not mean sacrificing our health. It means reducing waste and taking responsibility for the carbon we emit.

Healthcare workers are raising the alarm, but we cannot do this on our own. A green shift needs politicians and health policy makers to do their part. We need clear guidance, resources and a show of support.

In England, the National Health Service has committed to reaching zero emissions within 20 years. Their strategy has specific actions delivered by a 150 person-strong team. They has inspired a global movement towards low-carbon healthcare. Just last month, healthcare organisations across 18 countries joined the United Nations Race to Zero initiative.

The Norwegian Parliament, Stortinget, recently debated a proposal for a climate plan for the health sector. It failed to pass despite no active opposition and strong support from The Norwegian Medical Association (Legeforeningen) and The Norwegian Nurses Organisation (Norsk sykepleierforbund).

There is still time to show global leadership

There are green shoots emerging from across the health sector. The Norwegian Directorate of Health (Helsedirektoratet) has organised a seminar on reducing Norwegian healthcare’s carbon footprint; The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) just hired a Climate Director; and the Norwegian Minister of Health and Care Services, Bent Høie, has even said that healthcare emissions should fall.

It’s time to turn words into actions and the first step is a climate plan for the health sector. With the Norwegian general election coming up, Norway has an opportunity to re-visit this decision. There is still time to show global leadership and do the right thing.

Let’s heed warning from the IPCC report and take inspiration from the NHS. Health care must go zero-carbon: it’s time for Norway to get on board!

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