June 21, 2015, by Kieran Cooke
Healthcare is a high-octane business, and usually a high energy user as well
Image: FEMA Photo Library via Wikimedia Commons
Healthcare systems require tighter rules as the European Union seeks to cut climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. LONDON, 21 June, 2015 − Hospitals and other health institutions should be obliged by the European Union to act more rigorously in combating climate change, a lobby group says. The EU’s healthcare sector plays a major role in Europe’s economy – it accounts for up to 10% of gross domestic product in many countries. Healthcare also accounts for a big slice of the EU’s output of greenhouse gases: the 15,000+ hospitals within the EU’s borders create a large carbon footprint. A report by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) – a non-profit Europe-wide coalition of medical practitioners and those involved in running hospitals and other health concerns – says that if the EU is to meet its carbon reduction targets in the coming years, rules governing the running of hospitals and other public bodies must be tightened. “The public healthcare sector has the capacity to make significant contributions towards emission reductions and serve as a ‘launching customer’ for clean and energy-efficient products, services, works and buildings”, says the HCWH.
The report says healthcare in many EU countries represents the largest portion of purchasing power in the public sector. “Therefore the choice that public entities make when procuring services or buildings is important in reducing their carbon footprint.” When equipment procurement and other supply factors are taken into account, hospitals alone account for approximately 5% of the EU’s carbon dioxide emissions, says the HCWH. The EU has set itself a mandatory target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% over 1990 levels by 2020, with a further reduction to 40% over 1990 levels by 2030. Although HCWH says the various EU directives promoting energy efficiency and moves towards renewables and cleaner energy are helping in the battle against climate change, it asks Brussels to play a more proactive role.
At present the emission reduction target for 2030 applies on an EU-wide basis: the HCWH says making the target applicable to each country would make it much more effective. The report says the evidence linking climate change and bad health is growing: it quotes statistics compiled by the World Health Organisation estimating that, in the period 2030 to 2050, climate change will account for approximately 250,000 additional deaths each year around the world due to malnutrition, malaria, dengue fever, diarrhoea and heat stress. The report says greater attention has to be given to constructing more energy-efficient buildings across the EU health sector: there should also be more emphasis on renewable heating systems and moves towards cleaner fuels. HCWH says that while a €315 billion investment stimulus package announced by the EU in late 2014 is likely to help modernise electricity networks and build greater energy efficiency, Brussels needs to put more resources into making sure energy savings projects are properly implemented and monitored. Individual governments within the EU should also give financial incentives to better, more energy-efficient procurement policies in their healthcare systems. − Climate News Network
Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues