The health sector can play a leadership role in reducing the magnitude and consequences of global warming by reducing its climate footprint. These efforts, some of which are already underway, can greatly reduce the serious health threats posed by global warming and set an example for other sectors. That is the message of a discussion paper just issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Health Care Without Harm.

By reducing its climate footprint and moving toward carbon neutrality, the health sector can demonstrate the path forward in this age of global warming, thereby playing a leadership role in advocating for a healthy and sustainable future, commented Maria Neira, Director of WHO's Department of Public Health and Environment.

Just released at the World Health Assembly, a gathering of Ministers of Health from every nation, the discussion paper presents examples from around the world of hospitals taking measures to reduce their climate footprint while improving public health. It outlines seven steps health care systems can take to move toward climate friendly health care. And it identifies a series of opportunities for action at the global, national and local levels.

This paper begins to define a framework for analyzing and addressing the health sector's climate footprint, said Josh Karliner, International Coordinator for Health Care Without Harm, one of the report's authors. HCWH and our NGO partners will be using it as the basis for discussion and consultation with health care professionals, hospitals and health systems around the world in order to build a global network that can advocate for climate friendly health care.

The discussion paper argues that many of the steps hospitals and health systems can take to reduce their impact on the world's climate can also save money and improve the health of the population and the quality of care they deliver. It also points out that urgent action from all sectors of society is necessary to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

With the world's governments set to establish a new agreement for addressing climate change in Copenhagen this December, it is essential that the health sector speaks out and advocates for our governments to take a strong position that addresses the most serious environmental health issues that the world faces today, said Anna Gilmore Hall, co-executive director, HCWH-US.

The discussion paper is available for download at