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What impact will COP26 have on the Life Sciences Industry?

This November, the UK will be hosting COP26, a UN global event on tackling climate change. Our latest article looks at this year’s COP26 theme of Health and Climate Action, and how this will impact the Life Sciences industry.

What is COP26 and why is it important?

This November, the UK, in partnership with Italy, will host an event many believe to be the world’s final chance to get runaway climate change under control. For nearly three decades the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits – called COPs – which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. This also includes global healthcare companies and experts who will also be in attendance.

In those last three decades, climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority. The 2021 event will be the 26th annual summit – giving it the name COP26. With the UK as President, COP26 will be taking place in Glasgow.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought devastation to millions around the world, disrupting many parts of the global economy. Governments globally have stepped up to protect lives and livelihoods. But climate change has continued, and it ultimately threatens life on earth. Covid-19 has given us an insight into what climate change has the potential to cause if we do not act sooner rather than later.

So how does this affect the Life Sciences industry?

What impact does the Life Sciences sector contribute towards climate change?

The UK’s Life Sciences sector has a very large carbon footprint, with the NHS making up 5% of all UK GHG emissions. The sector itself provides care to over 60 million people in the UK and on top of this, medical devices and pharmaceuticals account for 25% of the total health and social care footprint.

Therefore, the healthcare sector needs to prioritise playing a pivotal role in finding solutions to this climate change challenge, in order to realistically reach the 2050 legislation. Achieving these objectives means that it needs to be looking into solutions for building housing patients or research facilities, to the energy and water requirements and waste produced, through transport and procurement of materials used to produce pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

It’s worth bearing in mind that most emissions come from the procurement of goods and services; better management of the supply chain would help reduce the impact of the delivery of goods.

Changes happening so far within Healthcare and Life Sciences

When it comes to being more sustainable, the challenges faced by the Life Sciences and Healthcare sector are very similar to challenges faced by other industries. The Life Sciences sector obviously consumes and transports a lot of goods, so it is vital that it is doing this in the most sustainable way that it can. This includes using electric vehicles rather than petrol and ensuring that the supply chain is as maintainable as possible.

Global healthcare company, GSK has announced ambitious new environmental sustainability goals in both climate and nature, aiming to have a net zero impact on climate and a net positive impact on nature by 2030.  The NHS has also made pledges in reducing emissions as well. Last year, it was the first national healthcare system to commit to net-zero direct emissions by 2040 and indirect emissions by 2045.

There has also been changes in how medical products are delivered to poorer countries, not only to ensure that they receive the medical products that they desperately need but also in how it can be stored more sustainably.

Since 2016, the Gavi Vaccine Allowance have managed to help many poorer countries, without electricity, store vaccines and other medical products by relying on solar power to keep their fridges at the right temperature. These changes have allowed the phasing out of gas or kerosene-powered refrigerators which were previously relied on. This is a positive change for both health and the environment, as not only were these refrigerators unreliable, but they also have an incredibly detrimental effect on the environment.

Much more needs to be done and these examples can be looked at by the industry on how to make a step in the right direction towards this.

What are the predicted outcomes of prioritising action against climate change?

A recent report by the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal Society suggests that if health is made central to the climate agenda, then actions taken, to reach UK net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, will have near-term benefits for human health in the UK, as well as helping to reduce the risks to health from global climate change.

We will be watching intently what the outcomes of the COP26 Summit are and how the life sciences industry can implement these actions.

To view more industry news, case studies based on work completed by the Compass Life Sciences team, please click here.

Further information & sources:

  • The Academy of Medical Sciences: A healthy future – tackling climate change mitigation and human health together
  • UN Climate Change Conference: COP26 Explained
  • United Nations: COP26 Special Report on Climate Change And Health – The Health Argument for Climate Action