What we'd like to see from COP28

IHPN Policy Officer Charlie Boyd looks forward to upcoming sessions at COP28 which hopefully will bring a more overt focus on the relationship between climate change and population health, and how this might influence our own work in our journey towards Net Zero. 

My name is Charlie Boyd, Policy Officer at IHPN and one of the newest members of the IHPN team. I graduated from the University of Bristol in 2022 and have since worked with several organisations that operate in the Net Zero space.

For me, the subject of climate change has hovered around the news my entire life, and by the time I entered the workplace, the climate crisis had become a key consideration for everybody working in policy.

Now, having joined the IHPN team and seen the industry leading work being done by the independent healthcare sector, COP28 seems to mark the perfect time to reflect on work done so far, as well as look ahead at what the future may bring. 

IHPN’s work on Net Zero began two years ago with the launch of the IHPN voluntary industry wide commitment to achieve net zero for scope 1 and 2 by 2035 and scope 3 by 2045, which the majority of members have now pledged to, directly impacting over 1,500 sites and over 170,000 staff.  

Since then, the team has worked to support members in developing their own work programmes in order to achieve their own organisational net zero emissions targets.

Last year, our report, “Clearing the air – How the independent healthcare sector is working to achieve “net zero” by 2035”, examined the fantastic strides taken by members, including the development of greener theatres, the installation of energy efficient equipment, and the introduction of ESG teams.

This year, at the inaugural IHPN Net Zero Conference, we explored the complexities of reducing scope 3 emissions in thought provoking sessions on supply chain management and sustainable investments led by a brilliant roster of experts and practitioners.

Coming into the event new to the healthcare world, my understanding of the relationship between health and climate was limited. But as our keynote speaker, Dr Jonny Groome, succinctly described how the climate crisis is in fact the single biggest threat to public health, the sheer scale of the challenge became clear.

For me, Dr Groome’s description of the downstream effects of climate change stood out – specifically, the growing burden felt by healthcare systems. Out of interest, I later followed up on his points with some desk research and was repeatedly confronted with reports of a worrying trend.

According to recent statistics published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 32.6 million people were forcibly displaced by floods, windstorms, earthquakes or droughts in 2022 alone. This is part of a continuing upward trend which the Institute for Economics and Peace predicts, in the worst case scenario, will reach 1.2 billion people displaced by natural disasters and other ecological threats by 2050 – a scenario that would inevitably place significant pressure on healthcare systems across the world.

Whilst such enormous predictions seem somewhat alarmist, climate change scientists have been issuing similarly worrisome warnings for decades regarding extreme weather events, and as concisely put by Prof J Marshall Shepard of Georgia University, “we are now living these predictions.” To paraphrase Dr Groome, responsibility now falls on the healthcare sector to reduce the threat of this scenario becoming reality by incorporating sustainable practices and processes.

My hope is that the upcoming COP28, being the first COP to feature an entire day dedicated to health, will help further the development and incorporation of sustainable practices and processes across healthcare systems.

Across the 17 (!) health-climate events taking place on Sunday 3 December, I’m looking forward to hearing what comes out of one session in particular: How Ambitious Emission Reductions Can Save Lives which will showcase progress and new commitments to capture the health benefits of climate mitigation policies and investments, including in the fields of energy, transport, food and agriculture and others.”

I am hopeful that these sessions will address the topics we covered earlier this year at the IHPN Net Zero Conference, namely supply chain management. Although it is a complex activity, reducing scope 3 emissions by maximising the sustainability of our supply chains is the next step for the sector we will need to consider.

It would be great to see this session draw together insight from across the globe to help improve and inform IHPN members’ processes, helping save more time, money and emissions – and of course, save lives.

I will of course be keeping a keen eye on what’s coming out of COP28 to keep members up to date on the latest developments and to continue expanding our shared knowledge base.