After another year of extreme weather events, from deadly heat waves and record drought to rare December tornadoes, climate change continues to make headlines and drive demands for action
How would you describe the progress the healthcare sector has made in recent years to help mitigate climate change?
Gary Cohen: The last couple of years have been profound. In the last year alone there was an initiative launched with the U.N. called Race to Zero, getting hospital systems to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, and to halve their emissions by 2030. In November at the Glasgow climate conference, more than 50 institutions representing over 14,000 hospitals, across 21 countries, committed to that.
Seema Wadhwa: There really has been a shift in how healthcare looks at environmental sustainability. I think that’s true even more broadly in terms of society, where once the conversation was focused on, what are we doing to our environment? How are we impacting the air, the trees, the waterways. That is really shifting more toward, what impact is the environment having on our health?
What do you think should be the top motivating factor for healthcare organizations to make investments to counter climate change?
Cohen: I think there are multiple reasons. One is it’s their mission—to serve their patients and their communities. They see more and more of the devastating impacts in those communities. It’s also a sense that many of the interventions save money. You reduce your waste, reduce your energy intensity, green your operating room. You buy more reusables as opposed to single-use throwaways.
Wadhwa: It is the mission. If you think about what healthcare organizations are meant to do, it’s really to improve the health of the communities they serve. … If we stayed true to anything, climate change is key and central to the work that we need to be doing. We are seeing the health impacts of climate change today, in the here, in the now.
What is something that you feel really optimistic about regarding healthcare’s role in combating climate change?
Cohen: There’s this really big opportunity among government, the supply chain, the private sector and not-for-profits to come together and accelerate climate action across the entire sector. I’m hopeful that the collaboration that we’re also participating in will actually move the entire sector—that it will see that the next iteration of quality healthcare means that it’s climate-smart healthcare.
Wadhwa: What I’m most optimistic about is how we can multi-solve some of the challenges between climate, health and equity. What I mean is that climate change is really a force multiplier, and not in a not good way for people who are disproportionately impacted by climate change: low-income communities and communities of color that are already challenged.