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NHS and Public Health England failing to do enough to tackle harmful emissions

17 June 2020

The Environmental Audit Committee is concerned that the Government is failing properly to tackle climate change within its largest carbon emitter – the NHS.

Decarbonising sites

Within the report published in September 2019, the Committee urged the Government to end coal and oil powered heating at NHS sites and to take action on fluorinated gases.

Decarbonising sites is paramount if the Government is to meet net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, with the NHS missing the Climate Change Act target of a reduction in emissions of 34% by 2020.

While the Committee welcomed that work is being undertaken to decarbonise NHS sites, some more so than others, the Government failed to provide any firm commitments to bring forwards targets to phase out oil and coal.

The Committee is also concerned that there are no assurances from Government that climate resilience and adaptation is being incorporated into performance indicators.

Chair's comments

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Philip Dunne MP, said:

“The NHS is important to so many of us throughout the UK, and has been particularly evident during the magnificent response of all its staff to the global pandemic. As we get closer to 2050, and the necessity to reach net-zero carbon emissions, we cannot be complacent of the significant role the NHS will play. It must decarbonise its estates urgently, it must phase out oil and gas heating, and must make better use of zero emission vehicles.

“The Committee’s inquiry was clear that unless urgent action is taken to tackle climate change, there could be significant consequences for human health and food security. It is imperative that these issues are considered carefully by the Government, and the Committee will continue to monitor work in this area.”

One of the Committee’s key recommendations in its report called on the Government to set a plan to maintain food security in the UK.

The Government has responded pointing to the Agriculture Bill, currently going through Parliament, where it will be a requirement for the Government to report to Parliament on food security every five years.

The issue is also subject to an ongoing review by Henry Dimbleby, the outcome of which has been postponed due to COVID-19. The Committee will maintain pressure on the Government to report progress in this area.

Further recommendations and the Government response is as follows:

  • National and International biodiversity targets. The Committee called for Government to engage with the public on new international biodiversity targets (replacing the Aichi targets) which were due to be agreed at the now-delayed biodiversity COP. The Government confirmed a new Nature Strategy through which the new international targets will be implemented.
  • Environmental Land Management (ELM) Scheme. The Committee called on the Government to set out the principles underpinning the new ELM. The Government confirmed the details are subject to an ongoing consultation on the new scheme.
  • Diet. The Committee made a number of recommendations relating to promoting healthy diets. The Government indicated much of its work in this area is being covered in Henry Dimbleby’s review.
  • Heating and energy. The Committee recommended a faster transition away from domestic gas heating and called on the Government to take steps to address the decline in home insulation installations. The Government is yet to publish its response to the consultation on the future homes standard.
  • Tree planting and urban green space. Although the response does not accept the Committee’s recommendation of returning urban green space to 2001 levels, it does set out the Government’s plans to develop a National Framework of Green Infrastructure Standards to define what ‘good’ green infrastructure looks like.

Further information

Image: jwvein/Pixabay