28 November 2023 | Press releases

New report shows 10 lifesaving health products contribute 3.5 megatons of carbon emissions per year – while also being at risk from climate change

Key points

Geneva – A new report released today shows the negative effects of 10 key health products on the environment and their vulnerabilities to a changing climate. This comes days before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) – the first COP with a dedicated health day.

The report, “From milligrams to megatons: A climate and nature assessment of 10 key health products”, analyzed the impact of 10 lifesaving health products: five different medicines, several types of diagnostics, and technologies like mosquito nets and medical oxygen production facilities that play a crucial role in combating HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, improving women’s and child’s health, and responding to global emergencies. The products are both carbon-intensive, and vulnerable to climate change. This is the first major health report to examine all these aspects – the risks from climate change and the impacts on the environment – to specific health products all along the supply chain, from manufacturing to delivery to disposal.

The analysis showed that the production of these health products, while saving millions of lives every year, contribute to carbon emissions and pollution at the point of production and disposal. For example, the total carbon emissions from all 10 products exceed 3.5 million tons per year – more than the entire city of Geneva.

“To reduce our own environmental impact, we need to rethink how we produce, deliver and dispose of key health products,” said Vincent Bretin, Director of Unitaid’s Results Team. “We need climate-smart health products – products that don’t harm the environment, that are resistant to shocks, that can be stored at high temperatures, that use supply chains that aren’t vulnerable to climate risks like storms and floods. We also need products that respond to new needs, such as displaced populations. If we don’t adapt to this new reality, we won’t continue progress towards the global health goals.”

The analysis also showed these products are at increasing risk from climate change: extreme weather events disrupt supply chains and health care, cutting off access; heatwaves and rising temperatures cause medicines to degrade; and ingredients used in the production of medicines, particularly plants, are at risk from habitat encroachment, rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. As many health value chains have developed around regional clusters, there is a risk that a single severe weather event could disrupt a substantial portion of supply; major producers of malaria and HIV medications, for example, are located together in flood-prone regions in India.

The report’s framework for action shows that we can increase the resilience of these products and their impact on the environment. It includes 20 technical solutions that could reduce emissions by 70% by 2030, including 40% that can be implemented at no additional cost through realistic approaches such as improving production processes, increasing the use of renewable power, and introducing community-based end-of-life recycling.

Unitaid is committed to applying the report’s recommendations to our investments through our market shaping role, working with climate and health partners to introduce, advance and promote equitable access to climate-smart products. Our new Climate and Health Strategy, which will be launched at COP28, lays out our approach for advancing climate-smart health products and reducing our own carbon footprint in line with the Paris Agreement.

Experts from 23 leading climate and health organizations contributed to the report. With the global health sector contributing 4.6%[1] of global emissions each year and the health-related impacts of climate change increasing, Unitaid is calling on the global health industry, policymakers, governments, research institutions and major buyers of pharmaceutical products to take action now, before it is too late. We must ensure key health products remain accessible and fit-for-purpose as the climate changes, or else we risk backsliding on hard-earned gains in responding to infectious disease and improving healthcare in low- and middle-income countries.

[1]: According to the 2023 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change.

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For more information and media requests:

Hervé Verhoosel

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Kyle Wilkinson,

Communications Officer

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