Globe and stethoscope

NHS becomes first national health system to commit to ‘carbon net zero’

The NHS has adopted a new multi-year plan to become the world’s first carbon net zero national health system, in a move backed by World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom.

It comes amid growing evidence of the health impacts of climate change and air pollution, with the aim of this new commitment to help reduce the impact of the world’s largest single health system and save thousands of lives and hospitalisations across the country.

Air pollution has been linked to serious conditions like heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. Hundreds of additional out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and hospital admissions for stroke and asthma have also been linked to high pollution by academics.

Changing climate has also led to more frequent heatwaves and extreme weather events such as flooding, including the potential spread of infection diseases to the UK.

Almost 900 people were killed by heatwaves last summer, with nearly 18 million patients go to a GP practice in an area that exceeds the World Health Organisation’s air pollution limit.

Scientists have also predicted a third of new asthma cases could be potentially avoidable by cutting emissions, while Lyme Disease and encephalitis are among conditions expected to become more common as temperatures rise.

NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “[This year] has been dominated by Covid-19 and is the most pressing health emergency facing us. But undoubtedly climate change poses the most profound long-term threat to the health of the nation.

“It is not enough for the NHS to treat the problems caused by air pollution and climate change – from asthma to heart attacks and strokes – we need to play our part in tackling them at source.”

“The NHS has already made significant progress decarbonising our care, but as the largest employer in Britain, responsible for around 4% of the nation’s carbon emissions, if this country is to succeed in its overarching climate goals the NHS has to be a major part of the solution.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), added: “Cutting carbon emissions is essential to protect health, everywhere in the world.

“I welcome the leadership of the largest single health system in the world, the National Health Service in England, in committing to be carbon neutral in its own operations by 2040, and to drive emissions reductions in its suppliers and partners.

“Health is leading the way to a greener, safer planet.”

A new report, endorsed by the NHS board today, sets out how the health service has already cut its own carbon footprint by 62% compared to the international-standard 1990 baseline, and by 26% when indirect factors are included.

Based on the findings of the report the NHS has formally adopted two targets, set as the earliest possible credible dates for the NHS to achieve net zero emissions:

  • for the NHS Carbon Footprint (emissions under NHS direct control), net zero by 2040, with an ambition for an interim 80% reduction by 2028-2032
  • for the NHS Carbon Footprint Plus, (which includes our wider supply chain), net zero by 2045, with an ambition for an interim 80% reduction by 2036-2039
NHE March/April 2024

NHE March/April 2024

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- Steve Gulati, University of Birmingham 

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