Ilija Sazdovski: Researcher and Lecturer from the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change and CATALYSE Work Package 5 member.

Ilija—an environmental scientist and educator—focuses on advancing sustainability through combining the Life cycle assessment and climate change disciplines.

How did you get involved in work related to climate change and health?

Throughout my career, I have been driven by the urgent need to address climate change and place it at the forefront of public policy. I have implemented climate change mitigation projects in collaboration with some of the world’s largest development organizations.

Reducing carbon footprints in the health sector presents a unique challenge due to its specificities. Furthermore, the health sector is responsible for responding to the human health impacts of climate change, making mitigation in the health sector an important priority.

Looking ahead, I firmly believe that the next few years will be incredibly exciting for the entire UNESCO Chair team. We must mobilize our expertise and knowledge to provide a scientific foundation for reducing the carbon footprint and enhancing the adaptive capacity of the Catalan Health System.

What is your main discipline or field and what unique perspective does it bring to the issue of climate change and health?

In my previous post, I worked as an international expert for the United Nations, advising ministries in several countries on establishing national or sectoral Monitoring Reporting and Verification systems for greenhouse gases (GHG). However, my work in CATALYSE is much more complex than addressing climate change impacts alone.

The UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF has a long-standing history of developing strategic objectives based on the Life Cycle perspective. Unfortunately, many researchers have tunnel vision and focus only on climate change while disregarding other environmental impact categories. Our work in CATALYSE aims to quantify the GHG emissions from the health sector, calculate trade-offs with other impact categories, and develop guidelines for health professionals. This approach will be implemented for the first time in any health sector in the world.

As a member of the UNESCO Chair team, I am confident that we possess the necessary skills and knowledge to make a meaningful impact in this crucial area. By working closely with stakeholders in the health sector, we can develop strategies that not only reduce carbon emissions but also enhance the overall environmental impact of the health sector.

You are currently measuring the carbon footprint of various health/research centers in Catalonia. Can you give an overview of how this is done and why it is important?

The work package we are involved in aims to produce a guidance document on the carbon footprint of the Catalan Health sector from a life cycle perspective. To create this document, we will first need to develop a carbon footprint for the sector by calculating the total GHG emissions resulting from direct emissions, such as burning fossil fuels, and indirect emissions, such as purchased electricity, heat, and goods and services.

Additionally, we will also calculate all indirect emissions from the sector, including consumables, equipment purchases, daily commuting of patients and employees, and other relevant Scope 3 emissions.

Currently, we are testing data gathering and validation tools with research centers and laboratories as a sub-sector of the Catalan Health System. By harmonizing these tools, we aim to ensure a smoother implementation of activities next year, when we will expand these activities to more complex sub-sectors, like primary care.

This is a complex process that requires data collection, analysis, and strategic planning, but it is a critical step in addressing climate change and reducing the sector’s environmental impact.

Your WP looks at the decarbonization of the Catalan health system. What have you found thus far? What are the main barriers that you see in decarbonizing healthcare systems in Europe and what do you think are the necessary steps to overcome them? 

So far, we have not identified hotspots for carbon emissions or environmental impacts. However, we are still in the early stages of our activities, and are currently testing tools for data gathering and looking at the simplest subsector of the health system.

We have some initial hints related to the end-of-life treatment of chemicals used in the laboratories, the usage of single-use products, and so on, which we are looking into. Another important area to investigate further is the possibility of carbon leakage resulting from contracts for energy services.

The health system is unique due to its specific operational needs, and many general mitigation measures cannot be directly implemented. For instance, the specific indoor conditions required are different than those in residential and office buildings. Moreover, the food used in hospitals depends on the specific dietary needs of patients, and simply using local food is not always possible. Additionally, single-use products are mandatory in many cases due to sanitary reasons, and it is very hard to replace them with reusable ones.

As the landscape of climate change and its impacts on public health continues to rapidly evolve, it is crucial that we remain flexible and adaptable. Through close cooperation with Catalan health officials, I am confident that we can successfully deliver practical guidance for the Catalan health system. I am excited to be part of a team that is dedicated to making a positive difference, and I am confident that together we can achieve our goals.