Climate change might be the biggest threat to humanity. The reduction of CO2e emissions is not only targeted at nature conservation, it could also be shown that limiting global warming will greatly reduce the probability of sustained public health catastrophes (Lancet Countdown 2023 Global Report, WHO Operational Framework 2023). The healthcare sector accounts for over 4% of global CO2e emissions and should be at the forefront of carbon footprint reduction, including clinical trials.

Lyle et al. assessed the average carbon footprint of a clinical trial being 78.4 tonnes, based on a retrospective analysis of twelve clinical trials. Even though twelve clinical trials is a small number, it gives us a first impression. Based on this average, the Sustainable Healthcare Coalition has calculated that the total carbon footprint of all clinical trials registered on (350000 trials in 2021) equals 27.4 million tonnes CO2e emissions.

Each year around 31000 new trials (average calculated by us using the data from 2015 to 2022) are registered on accounting for 2.4 million tonnes CO2e emissions/year. These 2.4 million tonnes CO2e being emitted each year should be reduced as much as we can, without however interfering with the benefits of clinical trials.

Guidelines like the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR, located in the UK) Carbon Reduction Guidelines from 2019 are a first attempt to inform researchers and stakeholders in reducing the carbon footprint of clinical trials. According to Lyle et al., the following activities generated the most CO2e emissions: commuting to work by the trial team, study centers fuel use, trial team related travel and participant related travel.

Find out in which areas you can reduce the carbon footprint of your clinical trials based on the paper from Hoffmann et al.:

Is your research group or organization working on a reduction of their carbon footprint?
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