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F E AT U R E

A green accord

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SCOPE


d for hospitals? As world leaders gather in Copenhagen to thrash out a deal on climate change, Gary Finnegan looks at how health services can cut their own carbon footprint

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he return of malaria to European cities, a surge in chronic respiratory diseases, and rising rates of malnutrition thanks to crop failure: climate change threatens to undo decades of progress made by public health experts and will heap pressure on our ailing public health systems. So says the World Health Organization (WHO), which is pushing global leaders to consider the links between health and climate change when they meet this month in Copenhagen to craft a successor to the Kyoto agreement. A growing chorus of healthcare and environmental groups is lobbying hard for a specific health clause to be inserted into the Copenhagen deal. They want support for the world’s poorest people, who are expected to be hardest hit by floods and infectious disease. But leaders could also turn the spotlight on the contribution made by health services to global warming. Hospitals, it turns out, are part of the problem. The National Health Service in England and Wales estimates its carbon footprint to be around 25 per cent of total public sector emissions and has set about radically reducing its environmental impact. The WHO has produced a blueprint for a climate-friendly hospital focusing on energy efficiency. Hospitals should use alternative energy sources, design greener buildings, and become more efficient in how they use water, transport and food, according to the report. Setting an example The WHO says that by “shopping green” the health sector can make its own operations more efficient and help spark broader change throughout the economy. Prioritising primary care and disease prevention can simultaneously reduce the burden of disease and the health sector’s fossil fuel consumption. In Ireland, the Health Service Executive is doing its bit, although public authorities in the UK, Germany and Poland are ahead of the curve. The HSE told Scope it now insists that environmental sustainability be a feature of design briefs for capital development projects. Green criteria are also important when awarding contracts to private companies. The extension to the Mater Hospital in Dublin and the design contracts of the National Paediatric Hospital had to meet sustainability standards which the HSE believes will save money, as well as the planet. SCOPE

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Green accord