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Filed under: Climate change Environment Health HIV

Climate change may have potentially catastrophic consequences for our planet and for human life.

UNDP supports countries in ‘greening’ their economies and lowering their carbon emissions, but it is also working in the field of global public health: UNDP is a principal recipient of grants from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria providing prevention and treatment services to millions of people living with HIV, tuberculosis and malaria in more than 25 countries amounting to $1.6 billion.

Paradoxically, while the health sector aims to make and keep us healthy, it is also a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, with potential adverse impacts on human health and sustainable development.

Now herein lies a great opportunity: The health sector has real potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Leading by example

As an important actor in the field of global public health, UNDP is keen to set a good example and analyze how its health-related work contributes to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases. The next step, obviously, is to look at ways to reduce the carbon footprint of our health-related work.

That’s why UNDP commissioned a study of its Global Fund HIV and tuberculosis projects in Montenegro and Tajikistan. Together with consultants from Arup, we used standard methods of greenhouse gas accounting, as well as innovative ways to apply them for the first time in the specific context of a global health programme.

Carbon footprint of UNDP Global Fund health initiatives in Montenegro and Tajikistan

The study revealed that UNDP’s HIV and AIDS and tuberculosis grants examined in Tajikistan and Montenegro produced the equivalent of 148,613 tons of carbon dioxide – in Tajikistan the carbon emissions are largely related to goods procured such as medicines and laboratory equipment, but also through transportation used to deliver the programme’s services.

In Montenegro, the impact of transportation is less, which makes sense because it’s a relatively small country. The grants in Montenegro mostly focused on activities related to developing, printing, and delivery of information to key populations at risk of HIV, and less on actual treatment and development of health infrastructure as in Tajikistan. The activities in Montenegro hence resulted in a comparatively small ‘carbon footprint’. .

Using a conservative estimate of $30 for the future costs of damages caused by every additional ton of carbon emission, the social cost of carbon caused by the examined grants was $4,458,390 or at least six percent of the grants’ investments. The cost was estimated based on the method described in the Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change (pdf), 2006.

It was also found that the way health services are organized have a significant effect on carbon emissions through the travel of patients who need to access them. In addition, the study showed that infrastructure upgrades of health facilities should take into account carbon emissions during the design, construction and maintenance phase.

Next steps: practice what you preach and inspiring others

Based on the study findings, UNDP is now developing strategies and introducing practical steps to reduce carbon emissions in the way its health programmes are being delivered.

In addition, UNDP has started a collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNOPS, UNHCR and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on greening United Nations procurement in the health sector. This also involves engagement with suppliers and global health financing institutions like the Global Fund.

It’s surely time that the market power of global health aid (close to $30 billion annually) is used for investments which provide sustainable health services for today’s and tomorrow’s generations.

In this way, the health sector will also lead by example on our path towards greener economies.