Carbon Emissions: The Pharma Industry Pinpointed as a Major Polluter


While the pharma industry provides the vital medicines needed to treat diseases and keep populations healthy, it is also responsible for carbon emissions of an intensity almost 55 percent higher than those of the automotive industry.*

Lesser known than the link between the production of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) and large amounts of polluting by-products seeping into the environment and contributing to antimicrobial resistance, the industry’s emissions have a substantial environmental impact as well.

At a the recent Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) briefing on healthcare and life sciences in 2022, among other significant trends, EIU analysts identified the pressing need for the industry to address this impact, citing the US healthcare system’s rising greenhouse gas emissions, which escalated to a total of 552 megatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2018.


Taking action

During the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in 2021, the principal industry organisations ABPI, EFPIA, Farmindustria, IMC, IFPMA, JPMA, LEEM, PhRMA, and VFA issued a joint statement expressing the industry’s commitment to taking action. It claimed that eighty percent of the largest pharma companies have set net-zero or carbon-neutrality targets, and many have committed to reducing short-term greenhouse gas emissions.

Reshoring or nearshoring some of the industry’s manufacturing, much discussed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, could reduce CO2 emissions, as more than 80 percent of the emissions from consumer-packaged goods companies (including drug manufacturers) comes from getting products from their source to the end customer, according to a report from McKinsey.

Whether these initiatives are sufficient remains to be seen, especially when keeping global temperatures from surpassing the 1.5 degrees Celsius level will require the world to almost half its greenhouse gas emissions within the next decade, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


 *According to this 2019 study.

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