The NHS has today unveiled at COP26 – the United Nations global summit held in Glasgow – the world’s first zero emission ambulance capable of travelling up to 300 miles before re-charging.
This marks a major milestone in the ongoing drive to build a greener NHS and save lives by tackling climate change at source.
Developed by the NHS and ambulance trusts in partnership with industry and funded by Innovate UK, the zero emission ambulance is the first to integrate electric vehicle technology with a hydrogen fuel cell, enabling the vehicle to travel much further. Such a range would make this ambulance suitable for use in services and locations that need to make longer journeys, such as rural areas of the country.
Climate change is a health emergency. That’s why the NHS became the world’s first health service to commit to reaching net zero carbon. Air pollution alone contributes to 1 in 20 deaths in the UK. Reducing emissions would support the reduction of cases of asthma, cancer and heart disease.
With NHS travel and transport accounting for 3.5% of all UK road traffic, the development of greener transport is critical if we are to reduce harmful emissions, clean up our air, and improve health now and for future generations.
Decarbonising the ambulance fleet could potentially reduce emissions by 87 ktCO2e every year. That’s equivalent to 730,000 car journeys from Cornwall to Glasgow.
Today’s announcement is not the beginning of the journey. It builds on a greener ambulance development programme gaining pace across the NHS. The first fully-electric ambulance, is currently in service in the West Midlands – transporting patients safely across Birmingham, while improving local air quality.
Together, these two innovations represent the first two zero emission ambulances in the world capable of serving both urban and rural populations. In the coming years, the NHS will transition to a fully zero emission ambulance fleet, aligned with our national specification to ensure the highest standards of safety and patient care.
Our goal is to inspire world leaders, healthcare leaders, and those at the heart of sustainable healthcare implementation – to raise their ambitions when it comes to decarbonising healthcare here and around the world. To understand what is possible, and what is desirable, if we are to support a healthier planet and healthier people.
Since 2010, the NHS has reduced its emissions by 30%, moving well ahead of the requirements under the Climate Change Act. But we have much further to go. Up and down the country, our 1.4 million staff are overwhelmingly passionate about building a greener NHS. From pioneering greener operating theatres, to delivering community care on electric-bikes, they have taken this agenda and run with it because they know how important it is to the health of their patients, colleagues and communities.
Many of their stories will be shared at COP26 too – some through a photography exhibition featuring doctors to health visitors, mental health practitioners to supply chain managers, and others at events throughout the two weeks, in partnership with the World Health Organization, the COP26 Climate Champions Team, and many others. Our suppliers will join them too – with many of them raising their ambitions and pledging their support for a healthier future.
Over the course of COP26, we will of course hear some concerning messages about the future of our planet and the health of its people. But we will also find stories of hope. I hope you will join me in helping to build a greener NHS – and a greener world. Together, we can achieve even more, and will improve health now and for generations to come.
Dr Nick Watts
Dr Nick Watts is the Chief Sustainability Officer of the NHS, responsible for its commitment to deliver a world-class net zero emission health service. Based in London, he leads the Greener NHS team across the country, which focuses on improving the health of patients and the public through a robust and accelerated response to climate change and the broader sustainability agenda.
Nick is a medical doctor licensed in Australia and the UK, and has trained population health and public policy. He is a Member by Distinction of the Royal College of Physicians’ Faculty of Public Health, and an Honorary Associate Professor of University College London’s Institute for Global Health.
Prior to the National Health Service, Nick worked internationally as the Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown and the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, a collaboration of UN agencies and academic centres across the world. He has also focused on engaging the health profession on the links between public health and climate change, having founded both the Global Climate and Health Alliance and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.