Addressing climate change to be a top global priority for world leaders

This past month, I attended my first United Nations General Assembly in New York. As a UN Liaison for Sigma Nursing, I was granted special access to the assembly hall where world leaders gathered to discuss challenges we face as a global community. Climate change was a common concern. I listened intently as leaders from across the globe enumerated the negative effects of climate change (such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and flooding) to their countries.

Sigma Nursing UN Liaison Janice Hawkins at the UN General Assembly

I also attended a General Assembly side event on Sustainable Surgical Systems and Planetary Health. The guest of honor, Prime Minister Bainimarama of Fiji, opened the event by sharing his concerns for the impact of sea level rise. Prime Minister Bainimarama has frequently called on the support of the world to help address urgent issues of climate change. Parts of Fiji are currently uninhabitable due to coastal flooding caused by extensive sea level rise at a rate of 0.2 inches per year since 1993.

Because the healthcare industry is a leading contributor to the climate crisis, emitting 4.4% of the world’s greenhouse gases, more sustainable practices are needed. Surgical services consume 3-6X more energy than the rest of the hospital. In their commitment to more sustainable surgical systems, Smile Train has partnered with KidsOR to launch solar powered operating rooms for their pediatric cleft lip and palate repairs in Africa. Surgeries in Africa are frequently interrupted by power outages. The solar powered operating rooms reduce carbon emissions, save money, and improve patient safety with a more reliable power source.

Healthcare providers can advocate for more climate friendly practices in their own facilities. Part of my commitment as a UN Liaison for Sigma Nursing is to advance the goals of the United Nations and specifically, the Sustainable Development Goals including SDG 13 Climate Action. In a recently published article, our UN Liaison team shared an A-Z list of suggestions for reducing carbon emissions in healthcare. These suggestions can spark ideas for initiatives in our hospitals. For example, creating a sustainability team is one evidenced based strategy to reduce carbon emissions. Simple ideas such as powering down workstations, donating open supplies for educational purposes, and prioritizing “greener” anesthetic gases can be implemented immediately.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres considers climate change to be a top global priority. Citizens and countries worldwide must stand together in the fight.

About the author:

Janice Hawkins, PhD, RN, CNS-BC, is a Clinical Associate Professor at Old Dominion University, a Climate for Health Ambassador and a Sigma United Nations Liaison in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council. Sigma partners with Climate for Health to promote climate engagement of healthcare professionals. Janice can be reached at [email protected]

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