by Amy Wilson and Leonie Schiedek
Climate education is vital across all sectors to assist individuals and organisations to change their attitudes and behaviours in relation to climate change to ensure the Paris Agreement goals are achieved . The health care system is an important sector that requires consideration of carbon dioxide emission reduction and climate change education strategies, to reduce the long-term pressures on public services due to increasing health consequences of global warming .
Climate Change Impacts on Health
Climate change introduces new health risks and has the potential to exacerbate existing health problems through both direct and indirect effects [2,3]. Changes in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events such as heat waves and flooding have direct consequences. Indirect effects include changes in the incidence of diseases transmitted by insects (i.e. vector-borne diseases caused by mosquitoes and ticks), changes in the quality of water, food, and air, or mental health [3, 4]. The health sector must therefore adapt its efforts to the consequences of climate change and should take into account the vulnerability of certain societal groups.
Between 2030 and 2050, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that approximately 250.000 additional deaths will occur as a result of climate change . Malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress are all possible causes . By 2030, the direct costs to health are estimated to be between USD 2-4 billion per year (that does not include costs in health-determining sectors like agriculture or water, sanitation and hygiene) . On the other hand, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can result in improved health, for example, in decreased air pollution .
Health Care Systems Emissions
The health sector also contributes to global warming. The main sources of GHG from the health care system are energy consumption, transport, and product manufacture, use, and disposal . In 2019, the health care’s climate footprint was found to be equivalent to 4.4% of global net emissions, which if it was a country it would be the fifth largest contributor to the global emissions . The top three emitters were found to be the United States, China and the European Union which contribute around 56% of total health care climate footprints .
Health Sector, Mitigation and Adaptation
One example for climate adaptation measures in the health sector is the so-called Community Health Resilience (CHR) . The concept includes the community’s capacity to leverage its assets in order to strengthen public health and health care systems . Thereby the community enhances its physical, behavioural, and social health and resilience in order to withstand, adapt to, and recover from climate change consequences .
To understand the health care systems and institutes in relation to climate change, as well as building on from an interview with Cindy Forde on climate change education, ClimaTalk spoke with Sonia Roschnik and Anna Fuhrmann, from Health Care Without Harm (HCWH). HCWH is an international NGO that works to transform health care worldwide to reduce its environmental impacts . During the interview the health care system, education for nurses and hospitals commitment to net zero GHG were discussed. Anna expanded on several of her projects and provided an insight into the work HCWH is doing in collaboration with hospitals and nurses to provide access to climate change resources, methods of advocacy and showcasing good practice. Sonia is the International Climate Policy Director of HCWH. She oversees the work to support health systems around the world, including national and sub-national governments as they move to reduce their climate footprint toward net zero and become resilient leaders in addressing the climate crisis.
The full interview can be found here:
If you want to know more about HCWH and the work that Sonia and Anna do, check out the Health Care Climate Challenge and Race to Zero projects for Europe. To find out more about Anna’s projects take a look at the Nursing School Commitment and Nurses Climate Challenge Europe. Finally, to find out about the pathway needed for health care systems to adapt and reduce emissions take a look at HCWH roadmap and report of the health care footprint.
References UNFCCC. n.d. Education is key to addressing climate change. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/climate-solutions/education-key-addressing-climate-change (last Accessed 12/08/21).
 Lancet Countdown, (2020), The 2020 Report, URL: https://www.lancetcountdown.org/2020-report/ (last accessed 26/09/21)
 Climate Adapt (n.d.). Health. URL: https://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/eu-adaptation-policy/sector-policies/health (last accessed 26/09/21)
 Cianconi, P., Betrò, S., & Janiri, L. (2020). The impact of climate change on mental health: a systematic descriptive review. Frontiers in psychiatry, 11, 74.
 WHO (2018). Climate Change and Health. URL: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health (last accessed 26/09/21)
 Health Care Without Harm (2019). Health Care’s Climate Footprint. URL: https://noharm-global.org/sites/default/files/documents-files/5961/HealthCaresClimateFootprint_092319.pdf (last accessed 24/09/21)
 U.S. Public Health Emergency (2015). Community Resilience. URL: https://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/planning/abc/Pages/community-resilience.aspx (last accessed 26/09/21)
 Health Care Without Harm, About, URL: https://noharm-global.org/content/global/about (last accessed 11/10/21)