NHS Scotland climate emergency and sustainability strategy: 2022-2026

This document sets out plans for NHS Scotland to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and impact on the environment, adapt to climate change and to better contribute to the United Nation sustainable development goals. It has been developed by the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland Assure.

Foreword from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care

The climate and ecological emergency is a health emergency. Human health is inextricably linked to the health of our planet and its natural systems.

Climate change presents direct risks to human health such as extreme weather events. We only need to look at the heatwaves taking place across the world right now. But climate change also undermines the conditions that are necessary for good health. We are moving to a world of greater food and water insecurity as a result of this climate emergency.

We have a moral obligation to help tackle the greatest threat to human health by reducing our impact on the environment. Responsibility rests with us all.

Importantly, environmental and climate action can have co-benefits for health if delivered with the right intent. For example, eliminating fossil fuels can improve air quality. Air pollution causes over 6.5 million deaths each year globally, and this number is increasing.

To play our part in tackling the climate crisis, NHS Scotland is aiming to become a net-zero health service by 2040 at the latest. We are part of an international coalition of over 50 countries to date who have committed to developing low-carbon health systems.

We want to maximise our contribution to reducing emissions from the manufacture and supply of medicines and equipment and from staff, patient and visitor travel. The level of those emissions is determined by clinical decisions and models of care and so the involvement of all health professionals in efforts to improve sustainability is essential to success.

This will require unprecedented change in how we work.

We need to establish a culture of stewardship within NHS Scotland, where resources are safeguarded and responsibly used to provide environmentally sustainable healthcare.

I've been struck by how the alignment of the principles of environmentally sustainable care support what we want to achieve in NHS Scotland. Those principles emphasise prevention, patient empowerment and self-care, lean clinical pathways and low-carbon alternatives.

Good care is environmentally sustainable care.

The risks that we face from climate change are the greatest threats to health this century. Health care emissions contribute to the climate crisis. But there are tools that we can use to make the NHS more environmentally sustainable and improve patient care. Health services and clinicians can also play a role in advocating for health promoting, environmental action in other areas such as transport and access to nature.

I am determined that we foster a new culture of stewardship - where we are mindful of the resources we use and deliver green and sustainable healthcare - better value care for the people we care for and for our system. And I think we can all play a part in achieving this.

Humza Yousaf
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care

August 2022


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