All four UK health services have committed to going net zero in a bid to limit global warming to 1.5C.
Globally, health systems accounts for 4.6% of manmade greenhouse gasses – if they were a country, health systems would be the fifth largest emitter.
The pledges were made as part of the health programme at COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, which has so far seen 47 countries commit to decarbonising and boosting the resilience of their medical services.
The programme is orchestrated by the UK Government, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and healthcare NGOs.
No time frame was given for all the UK’s health services to reach the net zero goal, but NHS England set out plans last year hit it by 2040, with an aim of an 80% reduction between by 2028 and 2032.
It has pledged to go net zero across its entire supply chain by 2045.
The Government has so far committed £280 million to decarbonising the NHS estate in England.
The effects of global warming such as extreme weather, high temperatures, food and water insecurity and infectious disease were described by the Department of Health as the “biggest health challenge of this century”.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “As a health community, we cannot simply sit on the sidelines – we must respond to climate change through urgent action, with global collaboration at its core.”
The 47 countries that have joined the COP26 Health Programme so far have vowed to take “concrete steps” towards creating climate-resilient health systems.
Forty-two have committed to shifting to a more sustainable and low-carbon system, while 12 have set a target date to reach net zero on or before 2050.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said: “The future of health must be built on health systems that are resilient to the impacts of epidemics, pandemics and other emergencies, but also to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and the increasing burden of various diseases related to air pollution and our warming planet.”
He added: “Health systems must also be part of the solution, by reducing carbon emissions.”