Andy Witchell, Strategy and Development director for the Public Sector, ENGIE UK, sets out three key actions for achieving NHS net zero

An emergency, by definition, is something that requires an immediate response. Following the pandemic, climate change will be back at the top of the list of global challenges faced by human kind. It’s important we learn the lessons of acting quickly and don’t just get busy writing papers and setting targets that are oriented for a generation into the future.

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It’s complicated and costly, right? Well, yes, but for perspective, the UK’s Carbon Budget clarified that net zero will cost approximately 1 per cent of GDP – which is cheaper than previously forecast – and less than half the cost of the current defence budget.

While it is complicated, it’s also well within our grasp: research undertaken by leading universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial has demonstrated that it’s possible to deliver net zero by relying only on technologies that exist today. So, what are we waiting for?

Here are the top three actions that some leading NHS Trusts are already developing to achieve net zero today:

1. Get a local plan, as well as a national one: the NHS Net Zero plan is fantastic, but delivering net zero is all about local constraints. Take renewables for example: some locations get lots of sun, others get lots of wind, and others still are on top of geothermal heat sources. Start gathering the local data to build your own route map to net zero. It’s the only plan that will really work for you.

2. Think like a survivalist, not like an architect: the reality is that most most Trusts will deliver NHS net zero within their existing buildings. Because of that, they’ll need to focus on the fundmentals - the stuff that keeps patients safe, warm and dry. There is nothing more important to net zero buildings than fabric, heat and power. Fabric will determine how energy efficient your buildings are; heat is where most of your emissions are; and power is your second biggest energy demand after heat. It is as simple as that – develop a plan to improve these and you’ll be well on your way to achieveing net zero – just like Ray Mears.

3. Be courageous, think long-term: replacing high emissions assets with low emissions assets makes good financial sense. Why? Because low emissions assets tend to yield greater revenue savings over time and because they deliver wider social and environmental benefits. The business case for replacing high emissions assets, like old heating systems, or tired building fabric, will improve over the next few years, as the capital costs of low emissions assets begin to fall, and as new green finance instruments come to market. Get creative about how to finance your transition.

There will be no vaccine for climate change, so we must be much more effective in the containment phase. The health crisis has shown us what is possible when we all come together to defeat a common threat.

I am optimistic about achieving NHS net zero because I know that we have the ambition, the technology, and the skills to deliver the right solutions, today.