Lancet Countdown analysis aids NHS world-first net zero plan

The Lancet Countdown team is proud to have played a role in helping the NHS to launch its plan to be the world’s first net zero national health service – by providing our analysis and modelling expertise.


This helped the NHS to understand how it could achieve net zero emissions and by when. Such pledges will be vital if the world is to halt climate change and protect human health. The plan will also help the NHS to build resilience in case of future global health threats such as the Covid-19 pandemic.


The same expertise underpins the Countdown’s annual assessment, which has played an important role in establishing the links between health and climate change. As today’s NHS net zero report makes clear: “The climate emergency is a health emergency”.


Professor Hugh Montgomery, co-chair of the Lancet Countdown, and a practising intensive care clinician, said:

“Clinicians worldwide are witnessing first-hand the impact that climate change is already having on human health. Like Covid-19, it is the most vulnerable in our societies, including the poor and the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, who have been affected most so far. But none are immune. Without immediate action at meaningful scale, the health of us all and of our children will soon be impacted.


“I therefore couldn’t be more proud of our NHS for today having shown the ambition, leadership and vision at this testing time, to set out a plan for eliminating its carbon emissions. With the UK hosting next year’s vital UN climate talks, it sends an important signal that all sections of society will have to play their part if we are to safeguard the health of present and future generations.”


Not only does the NHS sit on the frontline of public health, with 1.3 million staff it is the country’s largest employer as well as one of the world’s top 10 employers, and accounts for 4% of England’s carbon footprint. For all these reasons the NHS announcement is an important demonstration of leadership on health and climate that we hope others will recognise and follow.


The NHS has also shown a willingness to challenge itself by not only setting a 2040 net zero target for direct emissions, but an even more ambitious target of 2045 for emissions it can influence such as those in its supply chain.


The impact of “going net zero” for health cannot be understated. While in the long term it will help prevent increasingly intense heatwaves, more frequent storms and flooding, and the increased spread of infectious disease, it can save and improve the lives of many in a much shorter time-frame.


The NHS report estimates that if the UK met its net zero ambitions, around 145,000 lives would be saved annually through better air quality, more physical activity and improved diets. A third of new asthma cases might also be avoided.


But as we approach the fifth anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement – where the world committed to net zero – the NHS cannot go it alone. Everyone must play their part to deliver net zero.