Keynote Speech: Summit on Green and Safe Healthcare Facilities

January 26, 2017

Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda

Summit on Green and Safe Healthcare Facilities

Theme: “Take Charge: Linkages towards Green and Safe Healthcare Facilities”

26 January 2017 | Antipolo, Rizal


It is with great pleasure that I take part in this gathering of delegates from the health care sector. I see this as an opportunity to build stronger partnerships with you as we seek to create solutions for the growing social, economic and development challenges caused by environmental degradation and disasters arising from natural hazards made stronger by climate change.

One way to perceive how the climate works is to allude to it like the engineering of the human body — complex and interconnected.

The body is an amazing creation, made of parts that are integral to making it function. Millions of pathways combine to form cells, tissues and organs that allow us to be human.

It is the same way that our climate and our planet’s environment are interconnected. Changes in the climate create impacts that are large and encompassing, affecting every living thing.

The Climate Crisis and Public Health

Climate change did not happen overnight, and it has taken us super typhoons and tsunamis, sinking islands, parched and unusable land, and staggering numbers of lives displaced and perished to visualize what scientists and environmental activists have been warning us for decades – that among other effects, “climate change will be the biggest global health threat of the 21stcentury.”

As climate change alters rainfall patterns and brings deadly, intensified and frequent calamities, it will affect public health. Governments, organizations, businesses and the private sector will face conundrums that include the spreading of deadly diseases and viruses, decrease in well-being of citizens, not to mention medical relief needed with each catastrophe.

According to a study conducted by the World Bank, “the average global cost of adaptation in the health sector for the prevention and treatment of diarrhea and malaria alone will reach $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion per year over the period 2010–2050.” [1]

A United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) study estimates the adaptation cost in the health sector to range from $2 billion and $14 billion over the period 2010–2030.

But what has caused this constant warming of the Earth’s temperature that has led to the climate crisis?

Key findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revealed that climate change is “unequivocal” and that there is 95 percent likelihood that human activity is the cause of global warming.[2]

Human activity released 545 gigatons of carbon dioxide—the main greenhouse gas (GHG) from 1750 to 2011. In the last decade, 90 percent of rise in carbon dioxide levels was due to burning of fossil fuels.

Unless drastic cuts are introduced, global temperatures are projected to increase by 0.3 to 4.8 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

The Role of Health Care Sector in Climate Change Mitigation

The health care sector has also contributed to the climate crisis.

According to Health Care Without Harm, hospitals use twice as much energy per square foot as a traditional office space especially since they operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Moreover, many health care facilities occupy aging and energy inefficient buildings and generate tons of waste everyday.[3]

The World Health Organization (WHO) has discovered various health risks caused by unsafe disposal of health care waste such as contaminated needles and syringes. The improper and unsafe disposal of contaminated needles and syringes may lead to dangerous consequences because it can be reused or sold to be used again since these materials may be scavenged from waste areas and dumpsites.[4]

A waste management assessment of the WHO and UNICEF conducted in 2015 in 24 countries, showed that 58% of sampled health care facilities had adequate systems in place for the safe disposal of health care waste; which means that about 42% of health care facilities do not have proper waste disposal methods.[5]

How can the health care sector turn these issues and challenges into opportunities for positive action towards climate change adaptation and mitigation?

The Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth toolkit for the health care sector aims to increase participation in addressing climate change. Opportunities for action are in the following areas:[6]

•      Transportation

Health care facilities rely heavily on transportation to move patients, workers, supplies and waste. Hospitals can reorganize their fleets to include high-fuel efficiency, hybrid, and alternate fuel ambulances, shuttle vans and supply transportation vehicles.

•      Energy

Health care facilities can make their operations more energy efficient by using LEDs and energy efficient equipment. Hospitals that will be built, refurbished or retrofitted should incorporate green building principles such as day lighting, natural ventilation and green roofs.

•      Waste management

Best practices in waste management include putting up a materials recovery facility (MRF) and installation of wastewater treatment systems. Some hospitals are using innovative gas capture technology, which will capture, reclaim and purify gases used in operating rooms and will then be reused by the hospital. The procedure extends gases’ lifecycle, thus saving money and reducing GHG emissions.

•      Food service

It has been estimated that 18% of all GHG emissions are associated with meat consumption, and food that come from distant places utilize more energy for transportation and preservation, resulting in greater carbon emission. Hospitals can lessen GHG emissions by reducing the amount of meat protein on their menus, buying local, organic and in-season food, composting food waste, and eliminating bottled water.


Whole-of-society approach

Addressing the climate crisis needs a whole-of-society approach. We need the government to lead, but other sectors of society, including the health care sector, must give their wholehearted commitment and take action as well.

In the Senate, we continue to improve legislation and practice our oversight functions to ensure the implementation of our laws. We already have the necessary laws to aid us towards building a healthy, resilient, sustainable and climate-adaptive nation. We have the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, Renewable Energy Act, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Law, Climate Change Act, and People’s Survival Fund Law, among many others. But what is more important is to take proactive, urgent and continuous action.


I congratulate the Department of Health (DOH) for organizing this event and I commend you for releasing a manual on safe hospitals in emergencies and disasters. It is important that our hospitals are resilient and medical practitioners and hospital personnel are knowledgeable and competent even in times of disasters.


Hospitals are critical infrastructure as these facilities house the most vulnerable people—the sick, the elderly and children. It is a must that we make our hospitals and other medical facilities not only green and sustainable, but also disaster-resilient. This is in line with our commitment to the Safe Hospitals Campaign of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).


It is likewise important that doctors, nurses and hospital personnel know what to do in times of disasters. In fact, there should be regular fire and earthquake drills in hospitals to include practice and instructions concerning the location, use and operation of emergency exits, fire escapes, doors and fire extinguishers and other emergency kits and facilities, as well as the proper evacuation of buildings by persons in the event of fires and earthquakes.


We should develop a culture of safety, preparedness and resilience especially in these crucial times when extreme weather events are the new normal.


In closing, I wish to stress that we live in only one planet and by now climate change should make us realize that we are all connected and we suffer the consequences of this crisis together.

Each of us has opportunities to make a difference for our future. We must take hold of the opportunity to responsibly manage our environment. Let us make the Earth a sustainable, safe and healthy planet for all of us and for the future generations.


Thank you.


[1] Refer to ADB pdf p8-9

[2] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report

[3] Addressing Climate Change in the Health Care Setting: Opportunities for Action, Health Care Without Harm/Practice Greenhealth

[4] Health-care waste, World Health Organization Fact sheet N°253, 2015

[5] Ibid.

[6] Addressing Climate Change in the Health Care Setting: Opportunities for Action, Health Care Without Harm/Practice Greenhealth