UK health services pledge to go net zero to reduce global warming to 1.5C

9 November 2021, 00:02

All four UK health services have committed to go net zero.
All four UK health services have committed to go net zero. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

All four UK health services have pledged to go net zero in a bid to limit global warming to 1.5C.

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Health systems account for 4.6% of manmade greenhouse gasses globally.

If they were a country, health systems would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, such as CO2 and Methane.

The commitment was made at the crucial climate change summit, COP26, which is being held in Glasgow over a two-week period.

At the summit's health programme, so far 47 countries have committed to decarbonising and boosting the resilience of their medical services.

The programme is orchestrated by the UK Government, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and healthcare NGOs.

No time frame was given for all the UK's health services to reach the net zero goal, but NHS England set out plans last year to hit it by 2040.

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Its aim is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% between 2028 and 2032, and it has pledged to go net zero across its entire supply chain by 2045.

The Government has so far committed £280 million to decarbonising the NHS estate in England.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: "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."

Read more: Sunak to force UK finance firms and large businesses to publish net zero plans

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said: "The future of health must be built on health systems that are resilient to the impacts of epidemics, pandemics and other emergencies, but also to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and the increasing burden of various diseases related to air pollution and our warming planet."

He added: "Health systems must also be part of the solution, by reducing carbon emissions."

Read more: 'We've pulled two goals back in the fight against climate change': PM hails COP26 talks

The effects of global warming such as extreme weather, high temperatures, food and water insecurity and infectious disease were described by the Department of Health as the "biggest health challenge of this century".

The 47 countries that have joined the Cop26 Health Programme so far have vowed to take "concrete steps" towards creating climate-resilient health systems.

Forty-two have committed to shifting to a more sustainable and low-carbon system, while 12 have set a target date to reach net zero on or before 2050.

Last week, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that UK financial institutions will be forced to publish plans on how they will achieve net zero emissions.

Each plan will have to include high-level targets to reduce greenhouse emissions, and the steps and milestones companies plan to take to get there ahead of 2050.

This is the year the UK – as hosts of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow – is lobbying countries to commit to reaching net zero emissions.

However, the government will take no action against financial institutions and listed companies if they publish inadequate plans.