Health groups call for net zero target in Australian health system following NHS net zero announcement

Friday 02 October 2020

Following the announcement overnight that England’s National Health Service (NHS), the world’s largest health system, has committed to a net-zero direct emissions target by 2040, Australian health groups are calling for a net-zero target for healthcare in Australia.

The NHS announcement includes an ambition to reduce emissions by 80% by 2028 to 2032 on a 1990 baseline, and a 2045 net-zero target for their indirect emissions and for those they can influence in their supply chain (with an ambition to reduce those emissions by 80%, by 2036).

Executive Director of the Climate and Health Alliance, Australia's peak body on climate change and health, Fiona Armstrong, said:

"This is an incredibly exciting announcement coming from the UK's National Health Service. By committing to net-zero emissions by 2040, with an ambitious goal of an 80 per cent reduction by 2028 to 2032, the NHS is leading the world in decarbonising the health sector and climate action.

“The NHS has an annual turnover of GBP140.4 billion (AUD$252 billion) and makes up one-tenth of England’s economy. It employs 1.3 million people, so this is huge news.

“The fact that they have chosen to release it at this time, with the health sector under enormous pressure from COVID-19, shows that they know tackling climate change is critical in order to ensure the health system can continue to deliver safe, quality care.

“If we fail to tackle climate change, our health system will buckle under the strain of the massive health impacts associated with a hot planet.

"With healthcare part of the problem when it comes to climate change, (Australia’s healthcare system is responsible for 7% of national emissions), we need to take responsibility and play our part in getting emissions to zero, in the shortest time possible.

"If we are to have any hope in protecting public health from climate change, Australia and other developed countries must follow the NHS’s lead.

“We need to see commitments of net-zero emissions by 2040 for all Australian health systems, and similar near-term targets of around 80% by 2030 for direct emissions. We should also aim for 80% by 2040 for emissions in the supply chain (which are around 70% of Australia’s healthcare emissions).

“We must mandate that all new hospitals meet a net-zero standard, and follow the NHS by insisting that all suppliers meet or exceed a net-zero emissions ambition within ten years.

“As the NHS announcement makes clear, we cannot wait until 2030 or 2040 to start working on this; we have to start now. These are huge and complex issues to deal with. The sooner we start the easier it will be, and innovation and action will snowball as we’ve already seen in the NHS.

“While the states and territories all have a commitment to net-zero by 2050 level, there are no specific emissions reduction targets of any kind for healthcare. This is a massive oversight.

“It is magical thinking to imagine we can get to net-zero by 2050 (a target itself inconsistent with curbing the acceleration of climate change -- it needs to be much sooner) if we don’t take action now.

“It’s not even as though we only need to get halfway there in half the time, we need to - as the NHS has demonstrated - get the bulk of the way there in the next 10-15 years.”

The NHS announcement includes:

  • A 2040 target for net-zero direct emissions (and an ambition to reduce emissions by 80% by 2028 on a 1990 baseline);
  • A 2045 target for net-zero indirect emissions and those they can influence in the supply chain (with an ambition to reduce those emissions by 80%, by 2036);
  • A new Net-Zero Hospital Standard for the construction of all new hospitals;
  • A commitment to deliver the world's first zero-emission ambulance, with road-testing ready as early as 2022, with a suite of targets for the rest of the fleet;
  • Ensuring a Net-Zero Board-Level lead for all NHS Organisations and Trusts
  • Within the decade, a commitment to only purchase from suppliers who meet or exceed the NHS' net-zero ambition

Media contact: Adam Pulford, 0424 885 387