Our commitment to delivering a Net Zero Carbon health service – two years in perspective
12 October 2022
By RJ Heron
Our national health service made history in 2020 by becoming the world’s first to commit to delivering a net zero health service by 2040. Now two years on we reflect on the achievements made so far and remind ourselves of our ambition to meet our net zero goals.
The Green Plan
Net Zero Carbon is a challenging target; our Green Plan sets out how we will get there for emissions within our control by 2040. It clearly sets out our priorities and the projects that will deliver on them.
As of this year every NHS Trust now has a Green Plan, this amounts to over 200 individual documents with bespoke plans for each organisation to reach the same goal. Collectively over the next five years these Green Plans will reduce carbon emissions by an amount comparable to taking more than 500,000 cars off the road in the next three years.
Why is reaching Net Zero Carbon important from a healthcare perspective?
Human and planetary health are intrinsically linked, we are already starting to notice the negative impacts of declining environmental conditions, such as air pollution.
The climate emergency is also a health emergency, air pollution is responsible for 1 in 20 deaths in the UK, it was previously believed that 40,000 deaths in the UK were brought forward annually due to air pollution, new figures estimate this number to be closer to around 92,000 premature deaths annually.
We are also experiencing changes in weather patterns, bringing more extreme weather such as heatwaves. Figures released this month estimate that due to the 2022 heatwaves that saw record breaking temperatures of 40°C in the UK, 2,803 excess deaths were caused in those aged over 65. This is the highest excess mortality figure in the UK during a heatwave for 18 years.
Our NHS contributes 40% of all public sector emissions and 4% of total UK emissions, so we have real potential to tackle climate change and make a lasting impact by making more sustainable choices to reduce emissions. In doing so we are actively supporting the health of the communities we serve.
Building a greener NHS for a healthier future
The video below summarises our commitment to Net Zero Carbon, and highlights some of the great carbon reduction projects already underway:
Successes to date
- Medicines are responsible for 25% of our overall national carbon footprint; work is being completed up and down the country to support a transition away from the most polluting medicines such as certain anaesthetic gases and inhalers.
- Our vehicles fleets are another source of emissions, many NHS Trusts have now started to transition vehicles to hybrid or fully electric. Rapid response vehicles are some of the first vehicles to be transitioned on the front line. Not only will these vehicles help to reduce emissions they will also improve air quality.
- Many modifications have also been made to future proof the NHS estate, onsite renewable energy generation (i.e., solar panels) is being used to reduce fuel bills and emissions. Improving energy efficiency is also a key mechanism to reduce the amount of energy we consume and improve healthcare environments for patients.
These are just some brilliant achievements to date, but there is still a long way to go on our journey to net zero, and we need to stay steadfast in our ambition to reach our goal. Let’s see what we can achieve together over the next two years.