Australia ranks as the 14th highest emitter globally, with healthcare representing about 7% of all Australian emission outputs (CSIRO 2023; Malik et al. 2018). As part of the race to net zero, Australia must minimise its carbon footprint within the health system and beyond. At the same time, as extreme weather events become more common, there is an urgent need to protect the health and wellbeing of Australians from the consequences of climate change.
Failing to act on the impacts of climate change, maintain quality health services to the community, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the health system could be detrimental to Australia’s future. A well-designed National Health and Climate Strategy provides Australia with the opportunity to become a global leader in environmentally sustainable healthcare.
Responding to climate change from a health system perspective is multifaceted and must consider preventative and adaptive strategies. ATSE makes the following recommendations for inclusion in Australia’s first National Health and Climate Strategy:
Recommendation 1: Focus on measuring and reducing Scope 3 emissions, which comprise the largest portion of the healthcare supply chain.
Recommendation 2: Dedicate measurement and mitigation efforts for emissions falling outside of Scopes 1 to 3, including providing remote communities with facilities to support virtual care.
Recommendation 3: Introduce a ‘triple bottom line’ approach to reporting and evaluating healthcare, covering health benefits, financial savings, and environmental benefits.
Recommendation 4: Promote grey (structural) and green (natural) environmental management strategies to adapt to climate variation affecting Australia’s health system.
Recommendation 5: Provide government-led incentives to reduce single-use items across the health system.
Recommendation 6: Encourage ‘buy local’ procurement to reduce transportation-related emissions and promote the reuse of resources.
Recommendation 7: Implement low-emission procurement criteria to begin decarbonising the supply chain.
Recommendation 8: Ensure the National Health and Climate Strategy plans for and promotes primary preventative health and infrastructure precautions to build a climate change-resilient population.
Recommendation 9: Integrate standardised, government-led sustainability training for staff across the health sector to improve the understanding of the environmental impact of the healthcare they provide.