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NHS England Net Zero Carbon Emissions Commitment Sets Example For Health Services Around The World

Responding to today’s announcement by England’s National Health Service (NHS) of its commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) Executive Director Jeni Miller said [1]:

“NHS England’s promise to eliminate its net greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 sets an extraordinary example for the health sector around the world of the kind of climate action we need. This decision by NHS England aligns with robust scientific evidence on just how serious a threat climate change represents for human health, and puts England’s health service on a path that supports a more resilient, sustainable, and a healthier future. Though we are still grappling with a devastating pandemic, health leaders have a responsibility to manage the other health threats on the horizon. The NHS commitment clearly recognizes this, and must serve as inspiration for health services worldwide to do the same”.

NHS England is the first national health system to commit to net zero carbon emissions, and the first major health system, public or private, to make a commitment of this scale. The NHS is a £140.4 billion (USD$180 billion, €153 billion) organization, making up one-tenth of England’s economy, employing 1.3 million people, and is directly responsible for 4% of the country’s carbon emissions [2]. In today’s announcement, the health service committed to achieve net zero emissions for the NHS’s carbon footprint by 2040, with an ambition for an interim 80% reduction by 2028-2032; and to achieve net zero in its wider supply chain by 2045. Details of the plan can be found in the report Delivering a ‘Net Zero’ National Health Service.

In May 2020, in a letter to G20 leaders from over 40 million doctors, nurses and other health professionals, including many working on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic, the medical and health community around the world called for a “healthy recovery” from Covid-19. To keep people safe and protect the public’s health, the letter emphasized, we must continue to make progress on climate change and a sustainable environment, even as we address the global pandemic, and “key sectors like health care, transport, energy and agriculture must have health protection and promotion embedded at their core” [3]. 

“For a healthy recovery from Covid-19 and a safe and healthy future, we’ve got to invest in strengthening our health systems, hand in hand with protecting the environment on which people’s health depends. The health sector is leading, but to fully address the climate crisis -- which is a health crisis -- we need governments to step up too”, Miller continued. 

“The Global Climate and Health Alliance is calling on world leaders to follow this bold move from England’s NHS, by bringing their own increased emissions reductions commitments, commensurate with achieving the goals of limiting global warming to 1.5-2 degrees ahead of the UN climate negotiations, COP26, to be hosted by the UK in late 2021”, added Miller.

“The NHS, a huge source of pride for people in the UK, was designed to look after us 'from cradle to grave'. As it moves into its eighth decade it continues to evolve to meet the challenges it faces. Understanding that the climate emergency directly impacts on our health and wellbeing it has measured its own contribution to the UK's carbon footprint and has set a plan for getting to net zero by 2040. This requires all health professionals to do things differently and together they will rise to this challenge, advocating, educating and leading the way”, said Nicky Philpott, Executive Director, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC); GCHA Board Member representing UKHACC.

“Medical students, the doctors of tomorrow, have never known a time when climate change was not a threat to our future. We realize that we urgently need to be prepared to handle the impacts of climate change on our patients, even while addressing their myriad other health needs. As med students, we’re pushing medical schools to redesign our curriculum to integrate the health impacts of climate change. We also want the health systems we will work in to do everything in their power to protect our patients’ health by creating climate-resilient healthcare systems and protecting a healthy planet as well, on which all life depends. It’s not just a matter of healthcare doing our part, but of aligning our duty of care with the practice of medicine itself”, said Omnia El Omrani, Liaison Officer for Public Health Issues, International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA); GCHA Board Member representing IFMSA.

“If healthcare were a country, it would be the fifth largest climate polluter on the planet. The NHS has been a world leader for many years in addressing this problem by reducing its own carbon footprint and serving as a shining example for others to do the same. In 2015, the NHS was one of the first systems to join Health Care Without Harm’s Health Care Climate Challenge, helping lead an initiative that now comprises more than 22,000 hospitals in 34 countries. Today’s NHS commitment to set a trajectory to net zero should serve as an inspiration for hospitals and health systems everywhere to do the same and protect people’s health from climate change”, said Josh Karliner, Director of International Strategy, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH); GCHA Board Member representing HCWH [4].

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