“Healthcare systems in the developed world are some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and are causing significant harm to health globally by contributing to climate change. In order for the NZ health system to change our Government needs to set a mandatory greenhouse gas reduction target for the health sector and make sure it is met,” said Dr Dermot Coffey, Co-convenor, OraTaiao: NZ Climate and Health Council.
On 1 October, the NHS in the United Kingdom announced its commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040, and net zero within its supply chain by 2045. The NHS also released a report outlining its plan to become the world’s first “net zero” national health service.
“This is a ground-breaking report which sets the standard for other health systems to follow, including NZ,” said Dr Matthew Jenks, Anaesthetist at Dunedin Hospital and member of the Sustainable Health Sector National Network. “The NZ Government has been taking tentative steps in the right direction and there are pockets of excellence within NZ but progress is ad hoc and many District Health Boards (DHBs) have made no significant progress to reduce emissions. We still have hospitals that are burning coal as an energy source,” said Dr Jenks.
In 2019 over 900 NZ health workers delivered a strong message to the Government in a letter asking for the Ministry of Health to mandate that DHBs measure greenhouse gas emissions, set greenhouse gas reduction targets, and report on progress annually.
“The Government needs to provide the budget and support for DHBs to change how they operate for the long-term good of the sector and people’s health. We are asking for urgent, concrete action to ensure that DHBs, Pharmac and the wider health sector are held accountable for their greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr Jenks.
“We think there needs to be a mandate for all DHBs. This could be backed up with every DHB having a net zero lead on the executive board, as is planned for the NHS, to ensure implementation. As health professionals we find it intolerable that our systems are so high emitting– it goes against the Hippocratic Oath which requires us to do no harm,” said Dr Coffey.