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Net Zero Healthcare – Priorities for Decarbonising the Pharma Supply Chain

The climate and our health are inextricably linked. The effects of climate change on global health systems and outcomes are already clear, with WHO proclaiming it to be the biggest health threat facing humanity today.

And it’s projected to get worse over time. Every year between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause an additional 250,000 deaths.

Pharma, as one of the largest global industries, is both part of the problem and the solution for minimising the adverse effects.

A first-of-its-kind study by environmental engineers found the pharmaceutical industry is significantly more emission-intensive (13 percent more) than the automotive industry despite the sector being 28 percent smaller. Over half of these emissions are produced by supply chains.

Given this link and the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves faced with in the near future, the pharmaceutical industry has a unique responsibility to act. And act fast.

So, what progress is being made to decarbonise the pharma supply chain and help combat the negative health impacts of the climate emergency?

Latest Progress and the Health Systems Taskforce

As part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative, the Health Systems Taskforce (HST) was formed in 2021 at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK.

The HST is a public-private partnership set up with the collective and ambitious goal of decarbonising supply chains to help pharma organisations reach net zero. Taskforce members include senior pharma leaders and experts from NHS England, GSK, Roche, AstraZeneca, WHO and Unicef.

Actions focus on three priority areas: Supply Chain and Patient Care Pathways, Decarbonisation, and the use of Digital Innovation in Clinical Research.

Within these areas, the HST recommends eight levers to create low-carbon, climate-resilient health systems. These include product and packaging redesign to reduce material and energy use, increasing process efficiency to cut emissions and save costs with smarter data use, and cleaner transport, shifting to sea, road and rail freight instead of air and transitioning to electric or bio-based fuels within the fleet.

In November 2022, at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, there was a call for greater cross-sector partnership to accelerate action on climate as the world faces a critical juncture. Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) supply chains were a key focus, addressing this shared challenge through the newly launched Activate programme.

COP27 also marked a major milestone for the Energize programme and the first buyers’ cohort for renewable electricity was announced. By enabling suppliers to reduce their Scope 2 emissions, the programme assists pharma manufacturers to reduce their Scope 3 emissions too. These are indirect emissions that occur in the upstream and downstream activities of an organisation.