Climate change confronts the health care sector with a dual challenge. Accumulating climate impacts are putting an increased burden on the service provision of already stressed health care systems in many regions of the world. At the same time, the Paris agreement requires rapid emission reductions in all sectors of the global economy to stay well below the 2 degree Celsius target. This study shows that in OECD countries, China, and India, health care on average accounts for 5% of the national CO2 footprint making the sector comparable in importance to the food sector. Some countries have seen reduced CO2 emissions related to health care despite growing expenditures since 2000, mirroring their economy wide emission trends. The average per capita health carbon footprint across the country sample in 2014 was 0.6 tCO2 , varying between 1.51 tCO2/cap in the US and 0.06 tCO2/cap India. A statistical analysis shows that the carbon intensity of the domestic energy system, the energy intensity of the domestic economy, and health care expenditure together explain half of the variance in per capita health carbon footprints. Our results indicate that important leverage points exist inside and outside the health sector. We discuss our findings in the context of the existing literature on the potentials and challenges of reducing GHG emissions in the health and energy sector.
Cities are economically open systems that depend on goods and services imported from national and global markets to satisfy their material and energy requirements. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) footprints are thus a highly relevant metric for urban climate change mitigation since they not only include direct emissions from urban consumption activities, but also upstream emissions, i.e. emissions that occur along the global production chain of the goods and services purchased by local consumers. This complementary approach to territorially-focused emission accounting has added critical nuance to the debate on climate change mitigation by highlighting the responsibility of consumers in a globalized economy. Yet, city officials are largely either unaware of their upstream emissions or doubtful about their ability to count and control them. This study provides the first internationally comparable GHG footprints for four cities (Berlin, Delhi NCT, Mexico City, and New York metropolitan area) applying a consistent method that can be extended to other global cities using available data. We show that upstream emissions from urban household consumption are in the same order of magnitude as cities’ overall territorial emissions and that local policy leverage to reduce upstream emissions is larger than typically assumed.
Major revolutions in energy capture have occurred in both Earth and human history, with each transition resulting in higher energy input, altered material cycles and major consequences for the internal organization of the respective systems. In Earth history, we identify the origin of anoxygenic photosynthesis, the origin of oxygenic photosynthesis, and land colonization by eukaryotic photosynthesizers as step changes in free energy input to the biosphere. In human history we focus on the Palaeolithic use of fire, the Neolithic revolution to farming, and the Industrial revolution as step changes in free energy input to human societies. In each case we try to quantify the resulting increase in energy input, and discuss the consequences for material cycling and for biological and social organization. For most of human history, energy use by humans was but a tiny fraction of the overall energy input to the biosphere, as would be expected for any heterotrophic species. However, the industrial revolution gave humans the capacity to push energy inputs towards planetary scales and by the end of the 20th century human energy use had reached a magnitude comparable to the biosphere. By distinguishing world regions and income brackets we show the unequal distribution in energy and material use among contemporary humans. Looking ahead, a prospective sustainability revolution will require scaling up new renewable and decarbonized energy technologies and the development of much more efficient material recycling systems – thus creating a more autotrophic social metabolism. Such a transition must also anticipate a level of social organization that can implement the changes in energy input and material cycling without losing the large achievements in standard of living and individual liberation associated with industrial societies.