Hundreds of Hospitals Lead the 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge

By Sunny Lewis

RESTON, Virginia, August 29, 2015 (Maximpact News) – More than 1,200 hospitals and health centers in 13 countries are pledging to take meaningful action on climate change in a worldwide campaign to mobilize the health care sector ahead of the United Nations conference on climate change this December in Paris.

There, governments around the world are expected to adopt a universal, legally-binding agreement to take effect in the year 2020 limiting greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

The 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge, an international initiative from Health Care Without Harm’s Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network, invites health care systems and hospitals everywhere to reduce their carbon footprints and protect public health from the warming climate.

The 2020 Challenge is the first international effort to track emissions and take measurable actions to reduce the health care sector’s carbon footprint.

“At a time when climate change is posing one of the greatest threats to public health, hospitals and health systems are stepping up to help the world kick its addiction to fossil fuels,” said Josh Karliner, global projects director for Health Care Without Harm.

“This is a leadership moment for health care,” Karliner said.

“In every region of the world, health care can lead by example,” said Veronica Odriozola, executive director of Health Care Without Harm Latin America.

“Whether it is an off-the-grid clinic deploying solar power to run its operations and help electrify a community, or a large hospital reducing its own emissions to address respiratory disease from air pollution, we can all move toward low carbon health care,” she said.

The 2020 Health Care Climate Pledge relies on climate change and public health information from The Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change convened by the prestigious British medical journal

“We know that climate change is already exacerbating a wide range of health problems the world over,” the Pledge states. “As the earth warms, infectious diseases like malaria and dengue are spreading to new locations, threatening to reverse hard won health gains in many parts of the planet.”

“Heat waves are growing in intensity and number, killing tens of thousands outright and aggravating asthma, heart disease and heat stroke. Increasingly severe storms, droughts and floods, harm human health and put oft-overstretched and ill-prepared health systems at risk,” states the Pledge.

“Kaiser Permanente is making this pledge because climate change isn’t a distant threat,” said Kathy Gerwig, vice president and environmental stewardship officer with Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest American not-for-profit health plans.

“The health impacts of a changing climate can be felt today in the form of increasing rates of asthma, spread of infectious diseases, heat stress, and injuries from severe weather events,” said Gerwig. “By addressing climate change for the future, we are improving the health of communities today.”

The Pledge warns, “If greenhouse gas emissions remain unchecked, climate change will, within a matter of decades have severe pervasive and irreversible effects, undermining the food and water supply in many parts of the world, setting off mass migrations, and thereby triggering potentially unmanageable public health crises.”

Sonia Roschnik, who heads the Sustainable Development Unit of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, views the challenge as an opportunity. “We recognize that not only does climate change present a huge challenge for the health and care sector in England but also a great opportunity to change the way we work – to improve the health of people and communities, save money and help the environment.”

IMAGE: One megawatt elevated solar array above parking garages at Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Clara Medical Center, California reduces the facility’s carbon footprint. (Photo courtesy Recurrent Energy)  Featured image: from Health Care Without Harm challenge

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