Health sector causes 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, report finds

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Dive brief:

  • The U.S. healthcare system is responsible for an estimated 10% of national greenhouse gas emissions, which cause extreme weather events and contribute to worse health outcomes, according to a new report from the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • The healthcare system is now experiencing the damaging effects of climate-related weather events that will continue to disrupt operations and take a severe financial toll. Failing to establish the infrastructure to track and reduce health sector greenhouse gas emissions will accelerate the impact, it said.
  • In a survey of health systems conducted for the report, a majority of respondents (54 out of 63) said they had experienced at least one extreme weather event in the past five years. The cost of repairing damages from the event was in the millions for many respondents.

Dive Insight:

Federal health agencies are beginning to focus on the effects of climate change on patients and hospitals and the role that healthcare facilities play in emitting greenhouse gases. 

The CMS prioritized healthcare equity and climate change last month in its final inpatient rule, including a consensus statement signed by more than 200 medical journals calling climate change the “greatest threat to global health of the coming century.”

The American Medical Association in a statement adopted earlier this year declared climate change a public health crisis and said it will advocate for policies that aim for a 2050 carbon neutrality goal, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit atmospheric warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in an effort to prevent severe climate disruptions.

The Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden last month, pledges about $369 billion on energy and climate projects over the next 10 years and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a billion metric tons by 2030. Payers and hospitals applauded the law, which also extended enhanced subsidies for Affordable Care Act plans for three years.

The House Ways and Means Committee report said efforts to curb emissions or prepare the health infrastructure for climate change have yet to match the potential consequences. Taking steps now will improve health outcomes and potentially save costs throughout the pipeline, the report said.

The survey of healthcare organizations found just over a third of respondents said they had implemented formal climate action or preparedness plans to limit risk from future weather events. Most respondents, however, acknowledged the importance of preparing for natural disasters.

Some respondents reported having long-established sustainability goals and tools to measure their emissions and said that data showed cost-savings associated with the measures. Others had yet to create sustainability goals. Those with clearly defined climate programs reported still facing challenges, such as accurately measuring scope 3 emissions and raising funds for capital improvement projects.

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