The carbon footprint of Australian health care

Lancet Planet Health. 2018 Jan;2(1):e27-e35. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(17)30180-8. Epub 2018 Jan 9.


Background: Carbon footprints stemming from health care have been found to be variable, from 3% of the total national CO2 equivalent (CO2e) emissions in England to 10% of the national CO2e emissions in the USA. We aimed to measure the carbon footprint of Australia's health-care system.

Methods: We did an observational economic input-output lifecycle assessment of Australia's health-care system. All expenditure data were obtained from the 15 sectors of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare for the financial year 2014-15. The Australian Industrial Ecology Virtual Laboratory (IELab) data were used to obtain CO2e emissions per AUS$ spent on health care.

Findings: In 2014-15 Australia spent $161·6 billion on health care that led to CO2e emissions of about 35 772 (68% CI 25 398-46 146) kilotonnes. Australia's total CO2e emissions in 2014-15 were 494 930 kilotonnes, thus health care represented 35 772 (7%) of 494 930 kilotonnes total CO2e emissions in Australia. The five most important sectors within health care in decreasing order of total CO2e emissions were: public hospitals (12 295 [34%] of 35 772 kilotonnes CO2e), private hospitals (3635 kilotonnes [10%]), other medications (3347 kilotonnes [9%]), benefit-paid drugs (3257 kilotonnes [9%]), and capital expenditure for buildings (2776 kilotonnes [8%]).

Interpretation: The carbon footprint attributed to health care was 7% of Australia's total; with hospitals and pharmaceuticals the major contributors. We quantified Australian carbon footprint attributed to health care and identified health-care sectors that could be ameliorated. Our results suggest the need for carbon-efficient procedures, including greater public health measures, to lower the impact of health-care services on the environment.

Funding: None.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Carbon Footprint / statistics & numerical data*
  • Delivery of Health Care / classification
  • Delivery of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans