Putting The Environment At The Heart Of The Health Sector

Pelin Incesu

There is something a little strange about the idea of celebrating World Environment Day just once a year. As climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution increasingly endanger the health of people and the planet, the environment should be at the forefront of our thoughts and guide our actions every day of the year. Our shared future depends on healthy people, a healthy society, and a healthy planet. 

Over the next two years, the Middle East and Africa will take centre stage in tackling the climate crisis, with this year’s COP27 taking place in Egypt followed by COP28 in the United Arab Emirates in 2023. No one is immune from the planetary crisis and the private sector has a critical role in partnering with governments and the third sector to ensure the COP negotiations drive the bold changes needed to limit temperature increases to less than 1.5 degrees centigrade.

This requires businesses to demonstrate a commitment to the environment and sustainability through action, not just words. A healthy and sustainable future in this region and beyond relies on companies of all shapes and sizes to take immediate and deliberate action to mitigate and adapt to climate change, both within our operations and in the wider community.

It might come as a surprise to some that the healthcare sector, which encompasses everything from hospitals to pharmaceutical manufacturing, is responsible for approximately four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the healthcare sector were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter on the planet. For the world to achieve internationally agreed targets to limit global temperature increases, the healthcare sector must recognise its own contributions and by extension has a key role to play in driving down emissions.

AstraZeneca is taking bold steps to reduce its carbon footprint because we recognise the connection between healthy people and a healthy planet, and believe it is possible to deliver life-changing medicines in a way that is respectful of our planet and benefits society.

Underpinned with a US$1 billion investment, the Ambition Zero Carbon programme aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gases and build resilience across our supply chains. As a science-based company, we have aligned our climate strategy with the latest science. Our emission reduction targets have been verified by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and we were one of the first seven companies worldwide to have our net zero targets verified under their new Net-Zero Corporate Standard.

Alongside global efforts to build sustainability into internal operations, AstraZeneca is also working across the Middle East and Africa on a variety of projects aimed at stopping the climate crisis and building more resilient communities.

In partnership with the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance (CBA), the Ghana Living Lab was recently launched, a community-led project that will integrate local traditions and new technologies to restore natural forests, woodlots and fruit trees, with the aim of planting 4.5 million trees over the next ten years. This unique public-private partnership is working with local farmers to build social and ecological resilience, while inspiring action towards a circular bioeconomy.

Five thousand kilometres away in Turkey, AstraZeneca offices are collaborating with the country’s first electronic recycling facility to ensure corporate electronic waste – from old mobile phones to electrical cables – is no longer put into landfill. The proceeds from the waste will be donated to the Turkish Foundation for Combatting Soil Erosion, a non-governmental organization for reforestation.

In Egypt, a partnership with the Swedish Embassy and Egyptian Ministries of Education and Environment is installing green roofs in schools across the country, creating a healthier environment for students and raising environmental awareness among younger generations. 

And here in the Gulf, at the Expo Dubai 2020 earlier this year, AstraZeneca convened policymakers at a Climate and Health roundtable to better understand the impact of healthcare systems on the environment and discuss a roadmap for how countries and businesses can drive down emissions.

This week, AstraZeneca joined representatives from around the world at Stockholm+50, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. Designed as platform for stakeholders to collaborate and share expertise, Stockholm +50 could usher in a boost to environmental awareness and action for the next half-century, just as it did five decades ago.

As global attention shifts to COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh this November, we will continue to ensure that the environment is put at the centre of everything we do and encourage other businesses in the health sector and beyond to do the same. That means taking bold actions every day and working together, so that we can shape a resilient, sustainable, and healthy future for people and the planet.

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