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How is the UK Pledging for a Net-Zero Health Service?

4 min

As COP26 continues, Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid has announced all four UK health services have united to commit to net-zero carbon emissions. Quadrant Health looks at the pledge and the objectives given to measure success.

Health systems are substantial sources of greenhouse gas emissions, with the emissions accounting for around 4.6% of the worldwide total.

To give context, if they were one country, health systems would be the fifth-largest emitter – meaning measures need to be in place to reduce NHS emissions at the earliest opportunity.

The impacts of climate change represent the biggest public health challenge of this century, which could be felt around the world through greater water and food insecurity, extreme weather events and increased infectious diseases.

These elements all threaten the capacity of health systems to prevent, adapt and respond to increased and new health risks.

Now, all four UK health services have united to commit to net-zero carbon emissions, Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid has announced today.

47 countries globally agree to similar ambitions as part of COP26

This ambitious move by all nations is happening alongside countries such as the United States and Germany – who are pledging landmark commitments to develop climate-resilient, sustainable low-carbon health systems.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid told Quadrant Health: “As a health community, we cannot simply sit on the sidelines – we must respond to climate change through urgent action, with global collaboration at its core.”

I am delighted that all four UK health services are pledging to become net-zero and it is brilliant news that dozens of countries have joined the UK in committing to reduce carbon emissions from their health systems – significantly cutting greenhouse gas output around the world.

Countries joining the UK COP26 Presidency’s Health Programme will ensure their health systems are resilient and able to withstand such environmental shifts to continue to deliver care for patients.

Each of the four health systems across the UK has already started work on being greener, with more ambitious plans already underway to be well ahead of the UK government’s commitment of the entire country being net-zero by 2050.

Over £280 million is being invested to decarbonise the NHS estate in England

For the NHS in England, plans to reduce emissions will include a zero-emission fleet, with the world’s first zero-emission ambulance capable of travelling 300 miles before being charged, and a new net-zero healthcare building standard that will be published and applied to the existing commitment to build 48 new hospitals before 2030.

Also, all NHS England suppliers are required to publish a carbon reduction plan, with NHS England being the first health service in the world to commit to being net-zero by 2045.

The NHS in Scotland has also made commitments to the pledge, including all new buildings and major refurbishments to be carbon neutral with all NHS Scotland owned buildings to use renewable heat by 2038.

England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have come together to pledge for NHS net-zero

At his speech to NHS Scotland’s Sustainability Conference on 10 November, Scotland’s Health and Social Care Secretary, Humza Yousaf is expected to say: “The climate emergency is not just an environmental crisis – it is also a public health crisis.”

I am determined to help the NHS cut emissions and create an environmentally and socially sustainable health service. Working together, we can realise the benefits for people’s health that a healthy natural and social environment can provide.

NHS Wales has also made their own commitments, with all lighting across the NHS Wales estate to be LED by 2025, low carbon heating being used in all NHS Wales new builds and renewable energy to be generated on-site by 2030.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “Heath and social care in Wales has a crucial role in contributing to our collective ambition to reach net-zero by 2030.

We know how tirelessly our NHS and care staff have worked throughout the pandemic and that further winter pressures lie ahead. However, the climate emergency has not and will not go away and must be responded to with the same urgency that the pandemic has required of our sector.

“This challenge has already been embraced across the NHS and in social care in Wales and I have been impressed by the dedication shown by healthcare professions who are driving this agenda forward and developing their own initiatives to help their healthcare settings run more sustainably.”

Northern Ireland has also pledged for decarbonisation in health and social care, stating they will produce an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions and a subsequent action plan for the health and social care system, consistent with the Northern Ireland Executive’s Green Growth strategy.

They also stated they will be influencing supply chains to reduce their carbon emissions in supplying health and social care. Northern Ireland Health Minister, Robin Swann, told Quadrant Health: “It is important that all nations, including Northern Ireland, contribute to collective efforts to tackle climate change.”

I believe that transitioning to more sustainable and resilient healthcare systems will deliver improved health for all our citizens now and for future generations to come.

The commitments are made as part of the UK’s COP26 Presidency alongside healthcare systems across the world and in partnership with the World Health Organisation, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Healthcare Without Harm and others