Matt Eckelman Leads Health Sector Emissions Assessment Section of 2020 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change

Matthew Eckelman

Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Matthew Eckelman led the Health Sector Emissions section of the newest report on health and climate change released by the academic journal The Lancet. Each year, the Lancet Countdown tracks more than 40 indicators on the link between public health and rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Findings this year reveal a worsening outlook and suggest that millions of lives could be saved by action on the climate issue. In particular, the respiratory illness COVID-19 has hit hard communities already experiencing the brunt of climate change-related health disparities. The project is a collaboration of more than 100 experts from 35 global institutions including the World Health Organization, World Bank, University College of London, Tsinghua University, and Northeastern University.

Opportunities for Emissions Savings in Healthcare

As an expert in life-cycle assessment and the intersection of engineering and public policy, Associate Professor Matthew Eckelman served as the primary author of the Countdown’s Indicator 3.6: Health Sector Emissions. The authors’ research revealed that the health sector contributed about 4.6% of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, an approximate 6.1% increase over the prior year. Eckelman and his co-authors found that healthcare-related emissions per capita varied widely between countries, and high per capita emissions generally correlated with improved healthcare outcomes. However, this positive relationship between the two factors ended once emissions reached 400 kgCO2e per person. For example, the United States, France, and Japan had similar scores on the Healthcare Access and Quality Index, but “had  per-capita  emissions ranging from 350 kg CO2e for France, 1220  kg CO2e  for  Japan,  and  1720  kg CO2e  for  the  USA.” The results suggest that many high-emitting healthcare systems could in principle cut a large percentage of their emissions without risking a decrease in quality or access.  “This work shows the key role for the healthcare sector in taking action on climate change, not just in caring for people hurt by the negative effects of a warming climate, but also in reducing its own emissions,” Eckelman noted.

The results of the 2020 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change provide vital information for policymakers around the world looking to understand and mitigate the effects of climate change on public health.

Those interested in this line of research should consider our MS Degree in Engineering and Public Policy, or our PhD programs in Civil Engineering or Interdisciplinary Engineering.

Related Faculty: Matthew J. Eckelman

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering