Carbon neutral hospitals, greener transportation of goods and services and meat-free menus praised in World Health Organisation report
The government's strategy to reduce carbon emissions in the NHS puts the UK ahead of other countries in recognising the contribution health services make to a country's carbon footprint, according to a new report. The NHS emissions plan is also the first of its kind in the world, said experts from the World Health Organisation.
"The focus on concrete actions and the high level of support from front-line health professionals [in the UK] is exemplary," said Susan Wilburn, from the World Health Organisation's department of public health and environment, which co-published the report at the World Health Assembly in Washington DC last week.
Earlier this year NHS England released a strategy for reducing carbon emissions. It included plans to build more efficient carbon neutral hospitals, changes to transportation of goods and services, and a move towards meat-free menus.
"It is a really important start, but what counts is implementation, starting to make meaningful cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, without compromising one inch on providing the best possible health care," Wilburn said.
Josh Karliner, international coordinator for Health Care Without Harm, and another of the report's authors, also praised the work of the NHS: "The NHS is a world leader in this effort to reduce emissions and the only national health care system to have a comprehensive strategy for this. More needs to be done, however, in terms of making hospitals carbon neutral, and focusing more on disease prevention."
In the UK the health service accounts for one-quarter of the total public sector carbon footprint. Official figures show that between 1992 and 2004, NHS emissions rose by 12%, meaning the NHS must reduce its existing carbon footprint by 86% by 2050 to meet government CO2 targets.
David Penchon, director of the NHS's sustainable development unit, said that the health service has a public duty to take the lead in adopting concrete measures to reduce the UK's carbon footprint. "If the government is imploring people to take this seriously then the public sector has an important role to play," he said. "The NHS has a huge contribution to make."
A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "If the NHS becomes carbon neutral this generates an efficiency cycle in the economy. It becomes a kind of positive feedback loop in the economy."
The WHO report and last week's meeting in Washington followed a study published in The Lancet medical journal earlier this month, which warned that climate change is the greatest health threat of the 21st century. The health risks and the role of the health sector in fighting climate change are also expected to be high on the agenda when world leaders meet for key climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December.
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