The health sector is currently a big part of the problem in the climate emergency we are facing, generating around seven per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
A coalition of health professionals, students and communities is seeking to convince and support health services to not only address their contribution to the problem, but also to be part of the solution by investing in renewable energy, among other initiatives.
Healthy Futures’ Daniel Zelcer writes below about the opportunities, and how failure to date of governments to require such investments through purchasing requirements represents “both a major policy gap and a significant opportunity for health services”.
This article is published as part of Croakey’s contribution to the global #CoveringClimateNow project.
Daniel Zelcer writes:
Healthy Futures is an affiliate group of Friends of the Earth Australia made up of health professionals, students and community members who are taking action to address the climate crisis that is upon us and its related threats to health.
Our work is built on the recognition that we are in a climate emergency which is also a health emergency – a standpoint and crisis on which the Australian Medical Association now agrees.
Part of our work is the Repower Health initiative which aims to:
- Map all the health services in Australia that have solar power, creating an online network and sharing their stories.
- Catalyse other health services to make the switch to renewables by providing up-to-date, relevant information on renewable energy options and empowering health sector workers to be the influencers in their workplaces to Repower Health!
- Forge networks of health professionals concerned about the links between climate change and health.
It’s an urgent need, given health care accounts for seven per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, which currently generates most of our electricity, also makes Australians sick by contributing to cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological disease.
Meanwhile solar panels are becoming more financially attractive all the time as the price of wholesale electricity from the grid increases.
Health services therefore now have a perfect opportunity to protect our environment and people’s health, and simultaneously make a smart financial investment, by installing solar panels and decreasing fossil fuel consumption.
Leading the way on that currently in Australia is the Central Gippsland Health Service, in regional Victoria, which has a solar farm on the Sale Hospital roof, with more than 2,200 panels – the biggest installation on any hospital anywhere in the country. It will reduce annual carbon emissions by 3,500 tonnes and is expected to save $250,000 annual from energy bills.
We are working to achieve that sort of investment across health services.
Shining a light on solar
With the support of an Environmental Sustainability Grant from Banyule City Council in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs, we recently mapped the existing uptake of solar by health services in the local government area and doorknocked other health services to gauge their interest in solar power, discuss its benefits and ways they can access it.
We were delighted to find that approximately seven per cent of health services in the Banyule City Council area already have rooftop solar or are leasing a building that has it installed. However, this leaves many other health services yet to take up solar and obtain its financial, environmental and health benefits.
During our outreach program we had many positive conversations with decision-makers in health services and we also ran a workshop to train local healthcare workers to advocate in their workplaces for solar and other sustainability reforms.
We believe these efforts will facilitate further solar installations in the City of Banyule. Meanwhile we’re gearing up for our next project promoting solar in health care in the City of Moreland, in inner north Melbourne, also supported by a local council grant.
But we’re also thinking bigger than this.
The power of purchasing
Large energy users such as hospitals are unlikely to have a roof space big enough to installer a solar PV system to cover their energy usage and will still need to purchase a significant portion of their electricity from the electricity grid.
Their sheer buying power opens the door to contract with utility-scale renewable energy developments for zero emissions electricity. Groups like the Business Renewables Centre have formed to identify and remove any barriers for such large-scale energy deals
Health Purchasing Victoria does not currently have a public policy indicating that any science-based emissions reduction targets or environmental credentials are taken into consideration when negotiating energy contracts.
This represents both a major policy gap and a significant opportunity for health services. By building in targets to purchase 100 per cent of their electricity consumptions from renewable sources, health services can join a growing list of influential global companies who have made this commitment through the RE100 program.
While we’re in a climate crisis, the health sector has ample opportunity to turn things around now by investing in renewable energy, protecting our planet and the health of our communities, and simultaneously cutting electricity bills.
If you’d like to support our work please check out our website at www.repowerhealth.org.au as well as those of our allies at the Climate and Health Alliance, Global Green and Healthy Hospitals and Doctors for the Environment Australia.
Daniel Zelcer is the Head of Renewable Projects at Repower Health, a project of Healthy Futures and Friends of the Earth Australia comprising healthcare workers and community members working to address climate change.
This article is published as part of the Covering Climate Now initiative, an unprecedented collaboration involving more than 300 media outlets around the world that is putting the spotlight on the climate crisis in the leadup to a Climate Action Summit at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 23 September. It is co-founded by The Nation and the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), in partnership with The Guardian. Croakey invites our readers, contributors and social media followers to engage with these critical discussions, using the hashtag #CoveringClimateNow. See Croakey’s archive of climate and health coverage.If you value our coverage of climate and health, please consider supporting our Patreon fundraising campaign, so we can provide regular, in-depth coverage of the health impacts of the climate crisis, taking a local, national and global approach. All funds raised will go to a dedicated fund to pay writers and editors to put a sustained focus on the health impacts of climate change. Please help us to produce stories that will inform the health sector, policy makers, communities, families and others about how best to respond to this public health crisis.