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NHS Becomes First to Commit to Carbon Neutrality Target

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

Kate Byng-Hall reports as the NHS commits to becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral national health service by 2045.

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The National Health Service has announced its intention to achieve carbon net-zero by 2045, becoming to first national health service in the world to commit to such a goal. The NHS has launched a multiyear programme to reach carbon neutrality with the goal of benefiting the environment as well as reducing hospitalisations due to pollution-based ailments including asthma, heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.

“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.” – Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation


The Current Carbon Footprint

Earlier this year, Dr Marina Romanello and her team from The Lancet analysed data from 2019 to estimate that the NHS’ total emissions from that year were around 25 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – roughly 7% of the country’s total output for the year. This is a shocking statistic, but perhaps not surprising considering all the vehicles, buildings and machinery required to maintain the service and keep us well.

Having said this, the 2019 figure was still a reduction of approximately a quarter compared to 1990 levels, as various efforts have already been made to make the NHS more sustainable since the Climate Change Act of 2008. Indeed, emissions per patient have fallen by about two thirds since that time – a marked improvement. Nevertheless, big changes need to be made rapidly in order to fulfil the ambitious new target.



A Greener NHS

The NHS Net Zero Report states that intent to become carbon-neutral in the Services’ direct emissions (the NHS Carbon Footprint) by 2040, and in its wider supply chain (NHS Carbon Footprint Plus) by 2045, becoming the world’s first carbon net-zero national health service in the process.

The report highlights a number of key areas where significant improvement needs to be made to achieve neutrality:

  • Estate and Facilities

  • Medicines

  • Supply Chain

  • Travel and Transport

  • Food, Catering and Nutrition

  • Research, Innovation and Off-setting.

Experts also believe a reduction in climate change could mitigate health problems in the UK. Extreme weather events aggravated by climate change endanger health, with heatwaves increasing the triggering of cardiovascular and respiratory disorders, and floods accelerating the spread of infectious diseases. Furthermore, 18 million people in the UK currently attend a GP within areas with air pollution levels which exceed the World Health Organisation’s limit; it is believed that reducing air pollution levels will cut new asthma cases by a third.

“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.” – Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive

For significant change to occur, more countries beyond the UK need to commit. Healthcare in the world’s largest economies currently accounts for 4.4% of global CO2 emissions – reliable methods need to be generated to keep this essential industry running while also reducing its impact on the planet. In the end, we cannot be healthy if the planet is not.


 

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