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Climate change: NHS becomes the first health system to commit to become carbon net zero

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The NHS has committed to achieving carbon net zer The NHS has committed to achieving carbon net zer

The NHS has adopted a multiyear plan to become the world’s first carbon net zero national health system, backed by clear deliverables and milestones.

The NHS has already cut its own carbon footprint by 62% compared to the international-standard 1990 baseline, and by 26% when indirect factors are included. Now, based on the findings of a report by NHS Net Zero Expert Panel, the NHS has formally adopted two targets, set as the earliest possible credible dates for the NHS to achieve net zero emissions. These are:

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, and;

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.

‘2020 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,’ said NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens.

‘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.’

The commitment comes amid growing evidence of the health impacts of climate change and air pollution, and aims to save thousands of lives and hospitalisations across the country.

Air pollution is linked to killer conditions like heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, and academics have linked high pollution days with hundreds of extra out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and hospital admissions for stroke and asthma.

The changing climate is leading to more frequent heatwaves and extreme weather events such as flooding, including the potential spread of infectious diseases to the UK. Almost 900 people were killed by last summer’s heatwaves while nearly 18 million patients go to a GP practice in an area that exceeds the World Health Organisation’s air pollution limit.

“Cutting carbon emissions is essential to protect health, everywhere in the world,’ said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation.

‘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.’

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