As the NHS launches its ‘net zero’ for health plan, aiming to be the world’s first net zero national health service, experts writing in the BMJ say healthcare leaders and organisations have both a responsibility and an opportunity to chart a path to net zero emissions.
Renee Salas at the Harvard Global Health Institute and colleagues argue that “without decisive and urgent action, the climate crisis will increasingly undermine human health and disrupt health care delivery”.
Greenhouse gas emissions from healthcare are substantial, representing an estimated 4-6 per cent of all emissions globally in 2016, and the health sector has generally lagged behind most other industries in reducing its carbon footprint.
The authors say: “By striving for net zero, the healthcare industry can help limit climate change and its downstream consequences, promote public health through reduced air and water pollution, create cost savings by eliminating waste and inefficiency, and become leaders in the global effort to limit global heating to 1.5°C.”
The NHS has today (1 October 2020) announced a commitment to two targets:
- for the NHS Carbon Footprint (emissions under NHS direct control) to be net zero by 2040, with an ambition for an interim 80 per cent reduction by 2028-2032, and;
- for the NHS Carbon Footprint Plus (including the wider supply chain) to be net zero by 2045, with hopes of an interim 80 per cent reduction by 2036-2039.
The following measures are being examined:
- new ways of delivering care at (or closer to) home to reduce patient journeys to hospitals,
- greening the NHS fleet,
- reducing waste of consumable products and switching to low-carbon alternatives where possible,
- making sure new hospitals and buildings are built to be net-zero emissions,
- building energy conservation into staff training and education programmes.