Parallel Session 5: Sustainability, climate protection and resource efficiency in the health system

The starting point of this project was the UBA Resource Report for Germany 2016, informs Christopher Manstein from the German Environment Agency, the Chair of this session. The health sector has a significant share of carbon emission and footprint- in Germany alone, 107 million tonnes, which translates to 1.3 tonnes per capita, is being contributed as a total raw resource consumption (5%) by this sector. The four main areas significantly contributing to this share are- chemical products by 31.5%, food and beverage by 28.6%, energy and tools by 12.2%, followed by construction work by 10.2%. Globally, Japan and Sweden have higher shares in this sector than Germany.

Dr. Tanja Bratan, the first speaker for the session, tells us of three key parameters of the qualitative assessment conducted, namely, higher resource consumption, higher health care cost and stakeholder analysis and screening along with literature analysis. The first two factors of higher resource consumption and higher health care cost shows the synergies to be realised. The results of the project were good policy recommendations such as modular construction of medical aids and equipments, good practice examples and need for further research for expanding the knowledge base. Priority areas with regards to the four aforementioned significant contributors to emissions in the health sector being recognised, can now be worked upon for resource conservation. Staff shortages, decline in care quality, stressed systems and hygiene regulations also need to be looked at. Food is another system that needs to be synergised for a better individualistic as well as planetary health. She is positive of the motivation held by pro-active stakeholders and also, says that a large group of the stakeholders are open to sensitisation on the topic and that only mobilising them is needed.

Dr. Ulli Weisz, who apart from being a professor, has had 10 years of nursing experience, points out the twin challenges of- (a) increasing health impact due to climate change and an increasingly stressed health system as a result and vice-versa, and (b) health care’s contribution to climate change and its challenges in reducing emissions. She highlights the opportunities that the sector has- health sector being a neglected aspect for a long time in climate research and climate mitigation studies, and health and climate are conjoined and that both have a symbiotic relationship. Reduction in carbon emissions is possible without undermining health care provision- it can be achieved by reducing direct energy use, decreasing unnecessary consumption and wastage, low carbon products and most importantly, health promotion and prevention.

Dr. Nicole de Paula opens her talk by saying that now is the best time to be alive in human history simply because human population is healthier in general as is evidenced in increased life expectancy, reduced poverty and reduced child mortality. However, she also says that now is also the worst time to be alive because of the planetary expense that we have come to achieve the aforementioned develomental successes. This is now seen in the increase of infectious diseases, exacerbated non-communicable diseases, mental health crises due to reduction of green areas as a factor, food and nutrition insecurity and rise in displacement and conflict. Women, being the majority in the front line of primary health care as well as being doubly burdened by care, are disproportionately affected, which has only become more evident in the pandemic crisis. Gender equality targets are also highly unmet and to build a sustainable world, all aspects must be taken care of and go hand-in-hand. The recommendations laid out in the IASS policy brief can be summarised as- (a) strategic engagement of health professionals with climate planning processes, (b) climate finance usage to bring out health and planetary co-benefits, and (c) gender equality solutions for implementing and achieving SDGs and Paris Agreement goals.

Reported by: Shelly Debbarma, The Energy and Resources Institute, India.