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The climate emergency is the most pressing challenge we face and is the greatest threat to health in the 21st century. Climate change is no longer something we face in the future, greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming. Climate change now affects every part of the planet. 

We are already experiencing weather extremes such as heatwaves, intense storms and flooding, which have caused widespread adverse impacts and extensive loss to nature and people, including impacts to our health. The last five years have been the hottest years on record since 1850, with over 2,500 excess deaths during heatwaves in 2020 in the UK alone. Climate change has caused an increase in heart related illness, a decline in mental health, an increase in asthma and malnutrition to name only a few impacts on our health. Furthermore, by 2050 climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from impacts such as malnutrition and heat stress. 

Human and ecosystem vulnerability to climate change are interdependent and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and UK Climate Projections are clear that further change to our climate is expected, beyond that of natural climate variability. This will bring further challenges such as more frequent and intense heatwaves, storms and flooding as well as the spread of vector-borne diseases, affecting vulnerable people disproportionately. 

Depending on the level of action taken today, if average global temperatures exceed 1.5°C in the coming decades, many natural and human systems will face additional severe risks, including some irreversibly climate impacts and the release of additional greenhouse gases. The science shows that urgent action is required to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit future climate change. 

Climate change and healthcare challenges

A changing climate will continue to present many challenges for the health of our population and the delivery of healthcare which will only continue to get worse with every degree of warming.

Impacts of climate change and poor health outcomes are intrinsically linked, which is why environmental sustainability is a fundamental component of our business. It is part of our purpose to be a ‘catalyst for better health’ and is now a strategic goal set out by NHSBSA in our corporate strategy. We have a moral obligation to address our environment impacts and influence those we work with to do the same. 

The effects of climate change on health

Different climate change issues can have different health impacts for people.

Air pollution

  • asthma
  • cardiovascular disease

Water quality impacts

  • cholera
  • leptospirosis
  • campylobacter
  • cryptosporidiosis
  • harmful algal blooms

Environmental degradation

  • forced migration
  • civil conflict
  • mental health impacts

Extreme heat

  • health related illness and death
  • cardiovascular failure

Severe weather

  • mental health impacts
  • injuries
  • fatalities

Water and food supply impacts

  • malnutrition
  • diarrheal disease

These effects are summarised in this infographic about the effects of climate change on health:

An infographic about the effects of climate change on health.

Our approach to the challenge of climate change

Our goals, targets and actions set out have been created through extensive consultation, as well as consideration of internal and external issues, our legal and mandated requirements. Our environment strategy is part of NHSBSA’s broader approach to corporate responsibility, outlined in NHSBSA Business Strategy 2022-2025. Our environment strategy and environment action plan embodies all our values and contributes to the delivery of many of our strategic goals. 

Our approach to environmental sustainability is not seen as an ‘add on’ or a ‘nice to have’, it is a fundamental part of our business and something we have been embedding across our organisation for many years. It is supported by our colleagues, with 96% of those surveyed believing it is important we address our environmental impact and want to help us meet our environmental goals. 

Our business-wide Environmental Management System certified to ISO14001 provides the foundation to embed and deliver environmental improvements across our business, whilst being bold, thinking big and challenging our people to deliver services that don’t cost the Earth.