Cornwall becomes first NHS region to set 2030 net-zero target

Cornwall and Isles of Scilly's sustainability and transformation partnership (STP), which includes all key NHS provisions across the region, has set a 2030 net-zero target in what it claims is a UK first.

Cornwall becomes first NHS region to set 2030 net-zero target

The commitment builds on Cornwall Council's plan to reach net-zero operational emissions within a decade. Image: Royal Cornwall NHS Hospital

The STP includes Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust; Plymouth Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust; South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust; Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Kernow Health Community Interest Company (CIC), as well as Cornwall Council and the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

Under the new commitment, all of these organisations will work together to create a system-wide environment plan, headlined by a target to deliver net-zero operational carbon emissions by the end of the decade.

The STP claims that such a plan will take around six months to produce. Sustainability professionals from Cornwall Council will work with researchers at the University of Exeter to produce a “baseline carbon calculation” for the NHS organisations, and action plans for reducing carbon in “hotspots”.

In order to deliver the carbon reduction initiatives included in the plan, the STP will appoint managers from each organisation to a system-wide sustainability board. Each NHS organisation will also be required to appoint executive, non-executive and clinical leads on climate change by summer.

And, to ensure that wider physical climate risks and transition risks are factored into financial and business decisions, all NHS organisations in the STP will be required to assess such risks and add them to their registers.

In proposals to create the net-zero plan, STP chiefs acknowledged that meeting the 2030 target, which covers Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (power-related) emissions, will be “incredibly challenging”.

“It is not yet clear whether it is an achievable goal, and it may prove to be impossible, however, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly health and care leads feel it is an ambition to pursue in good faith and in endeavouring to achieve the goal will take us further than a longer target date to meet this challenge,” the proposal documents state.

According to the STP, 2030 is the most ambitious net-zero deadline set by any NHS region to date. NHS Greater Manchester is bound a 2038 deadline under local authority plans, while Newcastle Upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust has an internal 2040 deadline. Some smaller NHS entities have 2030 deadlines, but no other regions in their entirety. 

The STP also acknowledges in its plans the decarbonisation and climate action work already undertaken by its members.

Cornwall Council declared a climate emergency last year and has already developed a plan for achieving net-zero emissions by 2030, for example. The plan includes planting 32 square miles of forest – 2% of the region’s land mass – in order to sequester carbon; boosting energy efficiency across the built environment, particularly for council homes; changing planning rules for new-build offices and homes; and powering all new-builds with 100% renewable electricity and low-carbon heat.

A healthy future

Given that the NHS accounts for between 4 and 5% of the UK’s total carbon footprint on an annual basis, its decarbonisation will be crucial to the UK’s ability to meet its 2050 net-zero target.

Last September, NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens said the organisation would develop a framework of co-ordinated measures to reduce its carbon footprint within a year. He also said NHS England would develop resources to help staff discuss the potential health impacts of climate change and other environmental issues, such as air pollution.

At a policy level, the UK Government’s Long Term Plan for the NHS, unveiled in January 2019, includes measures to decarbonise the organisation’s estate and fleet. But it was developed in line with the original Climate Change Act 2008 before it was updated to commit the UK to net-zero by 2050.

While further interventions are developed by central Government, NHS Property Services (NHSPS) – the organisation responsible for more than 11% of the NHS estate – has proceeded with plans to switch to 100% renewable electricity this spring. The new clean energy contracts will cover more than 3,500 buildings, including hospitals, health centres and GP surgeries. 

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie