In the fight against climate change, researchers have identified nurses as the key to the global healthcare sector’s push to become carbon neutral in less than 30 years.
According to a nursing and public health researcher at the University of Southern Queensland registered nurse of 20 years, Dr Aletha Ward, healthcare is responsible for 4.4% of global emissions.
Dr Ward, who is leading research on the industry’s role in reducing carbon emissions, said that this made healthcare one of the most significant contributors to climate change through the procurement of goods and services, energy use, waste and transport.
To put this into perspective, if healthcare were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter on the planet.
In Australia, healthcare generates almost a tenth of the nation’s overall carbon emissions.
The scale of the problem has reached unprecedented levels caused by the enormous increase of single-use plastic items used to fight COVID-19, such as masks, gloves, personal protective equipment (PPE), syringes and syringe caps.
“Waste reduction is more important now than ever as we have never had such high clinical waste that we are producing now because of the pandemic,” said Dr Ward.
“The paradox is that while the healthcare sector is one of the biggest culprits of carbon emissions, it is responsible for looking after those most at risk of developing health problems due to climate change, such as heat stroke and respiratory illness.”
Dr Ward said their study, a systematic review that analysed existing evidence worldwide, found that nurses must lead the way in the sector’s sustainability drive.
“Nursing is the largest healthcare profession, making up about 60% of the healthcare workforce worldwide, and is often at the forefront of patient care,” Dr Ward said.
“As trusted healthcare professionals, it is essential nurses use their skills, knowledge and advocacy to reduce emissions and lead by example, in both their professional and personal lives.”
Dr Ward and her fellow investigators pulled together their findings from many research papers, case studies, position statements and reports from the past seven years.