Health care's response to climate change: a carbon footprint assessment of the NHS in England

Lancet Planet Health. 2021 Feb;5(2):e84-e92. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30271-0.


Background: Climate change threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health. In response, the National Health Service (NHS) in England has been working since 2008 to quantify and reduce its carbon footprint. This Article presents the latest update to its greenhouse gas accounting, identifying interventions for mitigation efforts and describing an approach applicable to other health systems across the world.

Methods: A hybrid model was used to quantify emissions within Scopes 1, 2, and 3 of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, as well as patient and visitor travel emissions, from 1990 to 2019. This approach complements the broad coverage of top-down economic modelling with the high accuracy of bottom-up data wherever available. Available data were backcasted or forecasted to cover all years. To enable the identification of measures to reduce carbon emissions, results were disaggregated by organisation type.

Findings: In 2019, the health service's emissions totalled 25 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, a reduction of 26% since 1990, and a decrease of 64% in the emissions per inpatient finished admission episode. Of the 2019 footprint, 62% came from the supply chain, 24% from the direct delivery of care, 10% from staff commute and patient and visitor travel, and 4% from private health and care services commissioned by the NHS.

Interpretation: This work represents the longest and most comprehensive accounting of national health-care emissions globally, and underscores the importance of incorporating bottom-up data to improve the accuracy of top-down modelling and enabling detailed monitoring of progress as health systems act to reduce emissions.

Funding: Wellcome Trust.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis
  • Carbon Footprint / statistics & numerical data*
  • Climate Change*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • England
  • Greenhouse Gases / analysis
  • Health Care Sector
  • Humans
  • State Medicine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Transportation


  • Greenhouse Gases
  • Carbon Dioxide