New York/Geneva — Adapting our operations to tackle the climate emergency
The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) pledged this week to reduce the carbon emissions of its medical projects to help safeguard the health of people and communities. MSF teams see each and every day the harmful impacts of environmental changes on human health. We also recognize our contribution to the global problem of carbon emissions and human-caused environmental disruption.
MSF's operational center in Geneva, Switzerland--which is one of MSF's five operational centers and oversees medical humanitarian projects in 27 countries--has pledged to reduce emissions by at least 50 percent compared to 2019 levels by 2030. With this target, MSF aims to chart a firm trajectory towards decarbonization, aligning the organization with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change to limit global warming below two degrees Celsius.
Human-caused environmental disruption is having dramatic impacts on the health and wellbeing of people around the world. Unless urgent and large-scale mitigation measures are taken, people's health will increasingly suffer because of the climate emergency. This includes extreme weather events and changing patterns that fuel the spread of deadly diseases like malaria, dengue, and cholera. Indirectly, droughts, floods, insect plagues, and changing rainfall patterns can jeopardize food production and people's means of survival.
"The clock is ticking," said Stephen Cornish, MSF general director. "We are already seeing how the people we serve in places like Mozambique, Honduras, and Niger have been hit hard by climate shocks. We will reduce our emissions and review how we conduct our operations. We should have done this years ago; we are already very late. We have a medical and ethical obligation to our patients and their families to not harm them or their environment as a result of our practices."
Many of the locations where MSF works today are susceptible to climate change. Communities in these places face multiple, overlapping health needs as a result of frequent epidemics, food insecurity, conflict, and displacement. Health emergencies in places like Somalia or the Sahel region of Africa will increase in scale and severity as the climate emergency grows. It is clear this crisis will hit the most vulnerable people on earth the hardest.
"It is a big, crucial step forward," said Christine Jamet, MSF director of operations. "As an emergency organization, it's a daunting task to 'green' our operations because our priority is still to provide rapid assistance in some of the world's most remote places. While we don't yet know exactly how we are going to get there, we know that we must. That is why we have set this target and why we are committing to it publicly and transparently to report on the progress we make towards meeting it. We simply have no other choice."
MSF has committed to reducing the environmental impact of its emergency medical projects through the adoption of an Environmental Pact in 2020.