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Global Briefing: US banking giants launch Center for Climate Aligned Finance

Global Briefing: US banking giants launch Center for Climate Aligned Finance

Rocky Mountain Institute partners with top banks to deliver new Center for Climate-Aligned Finance

Four of the world's largest banks - Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America - have teamed up with leading US environmental non-profit The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) to launch a new Center for Climate-Aligned Finance.

The new unit will act as a hub to help encourage collaboration as a growing number of financial institutions pledge to bring their portfolios and investment strategies into line with the climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

Paul Bodnar, managing director for climate finance at RMI, said the investment sector had a unique ability to shape the world's response to the climate crisis. "It's not the responsibility of any single country or single sector," he said. "But one sector provides the lifeblood that powers all the others and that's finance." 

The Center for Climate-Aligned Finance will focus on four key tasks: creating specific, personalised initiatives for high-emitting sectors; producing global frameworks on climate-aligned finance to guide other financial institutions around the world; support individual institutions climate-aligned investment strategies; and help shape public discourse across the financial sector on climate risks and opportunities.

BloombergNEF maps out Central European coal transition path

Bloomberg Philanthropies and BloombergNEF (BNEF) have this week published a major new report detailing how some of Europe's most coal-dependent regions could transition towards a clean energy future. Titled Investing in the Recovery and Transition of Europe's Coal Regions, the report explores the transition path for the power sector in four key Central and Eastern European economies: Bulgaria, Czechia, Poland and Romania. It concludes that through ambitious clean energy investment, these countries can become important drivers of Europe's green recovery and climate efforts.

"Growing the economy and fighting climate change go hand in hand, and BNEF's latest report shows that there's a smart economic way for countries that still rely on coal to phase it out quickly, right now," Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies. "By investing in clean energy, governments in Central and Eastern Europe can help drive the economic recovery from COVID-19, while also reducing air pollution, improving health, and slowing the effects of climate change."

His comments were echoed by Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Commission, who argued that in order to "become the world's first climate neutral continent, we have to turn the page on coal".

"Letting go of an industry that has provided jobs for decades will not be an easy process but Europe is ready to support it," he said. "Poland, Czechia, Bulgaria, and Romania can become leaders in Just Transition and switch from coal to clean while contributing to industrial leadership of Europe."

New renewables projects are capable of undercutting coal power on price in much of Europe, but some regions remain heavily reliant on the polluting fuel source and have warned that a rapid transition away from coal could have significant economic impacts. As such, the EU has proposed a number of 'Just Transition' funding programmes to help coal-dependent economies adjust.

Meanwhile, the BNEF report maps out the least-cost transition options for the four key power markets in Central and Eastern Europe and concludes that by 2030 the least-cost scenario would allow the countries to reduce their power sector emissions by 48 per cent from 2018 levels. Taken together, new renewable capacity in the four markets could bring up to €53.7bn in new investment, it added.


North American pipeline plans face major setbacks

Plans to build a number of controversial US oil and gas pipelines received a series of setbacks this week, as environmental activists toasted court victories and project cancellations.

A federal judge on Monday ordered the Dakota Access pipeline serving the huge Bakken basin to shut down because the Army Corps of Engineers had failed to do an adequate environmental impact study. And on the same day, the US Supreme Court blocked construction on the proposed Keystone XL line from Canada pending a further environmental review.

The rulings came within hours of Dominion Energy Inc and Duke Energy Corp announcing they have shelved plans for an $8bn Atlantic Coast Pipeline to transfer gas from West Virginia to East Coast markets, after a series of legal roadblocks led to a shapr increase in the project's estimated cost.

The movs were seen as a major victory for environmental activists who have long opposed the pipelines and a further blow for the Trump administration, which has sought to fast track approvals for pipeline projects only to provoke legal actions that have successfully delayed and blocked a raft of developments.


Plans unveiled for Portugal wave energy hub

CorPower Ocean has this week unveiled a new €16m investment plan to establish a R&D, manufacturing and service centre for wave energy converters in Viana do Castelo, northern Portugal.

The location has been chosen to support CorPower's flagship demonstration project HiWave-5 and advance the long-term development of supply and service capacity for commercial wave energy farms.

The new hub is hoping to take advantage of a strong pool of engineers from adjacent sectors, such as offshore wind, composite manufacturing and shipyards, while top level universities and industrial infrastructure including ports and grid connections are also said to allow for effective upscaling of wave energy operations in the region.  

"This is a crucial stage in our pursuit to develop a new class of high efficiency Wave Energy Converters," said Patrik Möller, CEO of CorPower Ocean. "CorPower's goal is to successfully introduce certified and warrantied WEC products to the market by 2024, making wave energy a bankable technology that can attract mainstream renewable project finance."


Irish floating wind farm project takes first steps forward

Simply Blue Energy, a leading Irish early stage developer of marine projects, has this week taked the first steps towards delivering the Emerald project, a floating offshore wind farm that would harness the wind potential of the Celtic Sea.

An application has been made to the Irish Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage for a license to carry out initial site investigation works under the Foreshore Act, 1933, in an area off the Kinsale coast, County Cork, Ireland.

The wind park would be located in the vicinity of the Kinsale gas field, which is currently being decommissioned. Emerald envisions the transformation of the maritime landscape from fossil fuel production to a clean renewable energy source.

The project is intended to be delivered as a staged development, starting with a pre-commercial array of approximately 100MW capacity and building to an overall capacity of 1GW upon final completion.

"Ireland has massive unrealised potential for offshore wind energy production, particularly on the south and west coasts, and state of the art floating wind technology is the key to unlocking that potential," said Sam Roch-Perks, managing director of Simply Blue Energy Ltd. "With a sea area 10 times that of our land mass, we have a chance to catch and become a leader in offshore wind energy production both in Europe and globally, allowing us to become the 'Green Gulf' of renewable energy."


WMO: World could exceed 1.5C of warming within five years

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) this week issued a new update warning there is a reasonable and growing chance that global temperatures will break the 1.5C threshold over the next five years, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The agency said there was a 20 per cent possibility the mark - which is the aspirational goal for limiting temperatures set out in the Paris Agreement - will be broken in any one year before 2024.

Moreover, the assessment said there is a 70 per cent chance the threshold will be crossed in one or more months in those five years.

The 2015 Paris Agreement commits government to keeping temperatures "well below" 2C of warming, while working towards holding them below 1.5C of warming.

Scientists have issued increasingly stark warnings in recent years that the 1.5C target is likely to be missed without deep and sustained emissions reductions and the widespread adoption of negative emissions technologies and techniques. They have also warned that as temperatures rise above 1.5C and then 2C climate impacts rapidly intensify, leading to more extreme weather, increased risks of droughts and heat waves, rising sea levels, and the potential for feedback loops whereby natural systems start to increase their greenhouse gas emissions.


New Trade and Agriculture Commission fuels green group's post-Brexit fears

New Trade and Agriculture Commission fuels green group's post-Brexit fears

Government insists new group will help ensure 'environmental standards in food production are not undermined', but big green NGOs appear to have been frozen out of influential body

The government has today announced the formation of a new Trade and Agriculture Commission, tasked with advising the government on how to ensure the farming sector "remains competitive and that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined" as new trade deals are sought.

The government said the Commission, which is to be chaired by former chief executive of the Food Standards Agency and Tesco technical director, Tim Smith, will include representatives from "retailers, farming unions, consumer, hospitality and environmental bodies".

However, the 16 named members of the Commission include just one person from a dedicated environmental group - Caroline Drummond of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF). All of the UK's main environmental groups are notable by their absence from a list of members that includes representatives from the NFU, the Food and Drink Federation, the British Retail Consortium, and free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Many of the organisations included in the Commission have announced net zero emissions targets for their industries and have lobbied the government to legislate to ensure high environmental and animal welfare standards are maintained through any new post-Brexit trade deals.

However, responding to the announcement of the new group of Twitter, Shaun Spiers of the Greener UK coalition of environmental NGOs, said: "The membership of the government's new Trade & Agriculture (not 'standards') Commission has been published - & it's hard to resist the conclusion that @tradegoveuk @trussliz don't give a toss about the environment!"

The government said the group - which will initially operate for six months and will report directly to Trade Secretary Liz Truss - would have a specific remit to advise on ensuring "animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined".

President of the NFU, Minette Batters, welcomed the formation of the new Commission, arguing it was "a hugely important development in ensuring UK farming's high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection are not undermined in future trade deals".

"It addresses a crucial element of a much broader challenge in ensuring the UK's trade policy delivers a prosperous and sustainable future for UK agriculture," she added. "This means securing trade deals that work for UK farmers and consumers, as well as our farmed animals and our environment, and we will continue to work with Parliamentarians so that they have proper oversight of our trade policy."

The group will also be tasked with advising on "advancing and protecting British consumer interests and those of developing countries; how the UK engages the WTO to build a coalition that helps advance higher animal welfare standards across the world; [and] developing trade policy that identifies and opens up new export opportunities for the UK agricultural industry - in particular for SMEs - and that benefits the UK economy as a whole".

Truss said the government recognised "the importance of engaging with the agriculture industry and seeking expert advice, which is why we have set up the Commission".

"We are putting British farming first and giving our producers the best opportunity to export their world class food abroad and grow their businesses. Our high food and animal welfare standards won't be compromised," she added.

Her comments were echoed by Environment Secretary George Eustice, who said the government had been "consistently clear that we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in all of our trade negotiations".

"The Agriculture and Trade Commission will ensure that the UK's agricultural industry, our support for farmers and our commitment to high welfare standards are maintained," he added. "This government will work hard to ensure any future trade deals are in their best interests and will prioritise both food production and our world-leading environmental targets."

The government has repeatedly highlighted how chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef are illegal in the UK, and stressed that any changes would need to be approved by Parliament.

However, despite the government's many assurances environmental and farming groups remain concerned about the potential for a trade deal with the US that would to result in the import of products that are produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards, which would in turn increase pressure on future governments to dilute UK standards.

The government insists this is not the case, but it moved to defeat a recent amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would have imposed a legal lock that would have effectively blocked trade deals where standards could be diluted. It has also repeatedly opposed calls from Brussels for stronger legal assurances to be included in any UK-EU trade deal so as to ensure the UK cannot dilute environmental standards post-Brexit.

Meanwhile, the scale of public opposition to the potential importing of chlorinated chicken and hormone injected beef was underscored again this week, as Sainsbury's, Tesco, the Co-op, M&S, Waitrose, and Aldi all said they would boycott the products even if they were permitted for import to the UK.

M&G Real Estate plots pathway to net zero by 2050

M&G Real Estate plots pathway to net zero by 2050

Global real estate investor says it is "repositioning its business" to meet its new decarbonisation goals, which include reducing 'corporate emissions' to net zero by 2030 and carbon neutrality across its portfolio twenty years later

M&G Real Estate has committed to achieving net zero emissions first across its operations by 2030, and then across its entire portfolio by mid-century.

The real estate investor, which empoys nearly 6,000 people and has £33.5bn of property assets under management, confirmed earlier this week that it is currently exploring how different areas of its business could reach its new climate targets. 

Once developed, fund-specific net zero strategies would be folded into all company decision-making and acquisition processes, it said.

It predicted the earlier 2030 goal would be achieved through pionering new approaches to business travel, investing in the energy efficiency of its buildings, and adopting "new, digital technologies".

Tony Brown, head of M&G Real Estate, said the company remained committed to reducing carbon emissions despite the ongoing economic and social crisis unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic and was "embracing the need to reposition our business".

"By proactively integrating net zero thinking into our investment processes, we can smooth the transition to low carbon investing and optimise value for investor," he said. "Each of our funds has a targeted programme of works and metrics to deliver positive outcomes, and we remain dedicated to generating and managing social value opportunities across our portfolio."

The new goal will build on the company's ongoing decarbonisation efforts, which have driven a 26 per cent cut in energy intensity and a 23 per cent cut in emissions across its real estate portfolio, compared to a 2012/2013 baseline, according to a report published by M&G this week alongside the new targets.

The report also noted than 10 of its funds were awarded a green star rating in the annual Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) survey, receiving an average score of four stars.

Nina Reid, director of responsible property investment, said: "There is definitely momentum behind the need for all buildings to achieve net zero carbon being driven from various angles - from regulators and occupiers to investors." Occupiers are setting targets that outpace regulatory requirements, she said, driving demand for high-performing buildings.  

"We are making good progress, but we cannot underestimate the challenge of transitioning all buildings to net zero carbon - this will require buildings to be designed, built and refurbished in very different ways," she added. "We also need to consider which factors enable or challenge buildings in their net zero status and embed these considerations into our buying decisions."

Reid said the company would use green building certificates to highlight the strong energy performance of assets to investors preoccupied by environmental issues. At the close of 2019, 31 per cent of its buildings were issued with certificates.

M&G Real Estate's new sustainability goals came in the the same week as property investor, builder, and owner Legal & General called on the UK government to introduce more demanding environmental regulations for the building industry. It calls on Ministers to deliver promised net zero carbon standards for new homes, introduce an ambitious 'national retrofit strategy' to support energy efficiency upgrades for existing homes, and implement embodied carbon targets for new public buildings.

Earlier this week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a major new one-year £3bn energy efficiency programme as part of his long-awaited summer 'mini-budget' targeted at boosting the pandemic-stricken economy. The move was industry welcomed by industry and green groups, but they also warned that the goverment must dramatically ramp up its investment and policy interventions in building efficiency over the coming decade if the nation's net zero target, given that buildings are responsible for more than a fifth of the UK's carbon footprint.

Schadenfreude is a dish best served warm

Schadenfreude is a dish best served warm

The UK's most prominent source of climate change denial' is soliciting donations, but, argues Andrew Warren, its influence is waning

Four months into the lockdown and there is yet another begging-letter email, predicting dire outcomes for one and all were it not for the sender's brave efforts - efforts that can be supported via PayPal transfer, or cheque if you take a more old school approach to your financial affairs.

Levels of empathy with the predicament obviously vary. But I must admit to a great guffaw of laughter when, last Friday, I received one such email signed by Benny Peiser.

Who is Mr Peiser? He is the 63 year old founder-director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). For those unfamiliar with this neutral sounding entity, Wikipedia describes the Foundation as "a UK lobby group" (a description the organisation rejects, apparently preferring the more neutral sounding "think tank") founded in 2009 "whose prominent members have been characterised as promoting climate change denial". In 2014, The Independent newspaper described the GWPF as "the UK's most prominent source of climate change denial".

The Foundation was created in the wake of the UEA 'Climategate' pseudo-scandal, which was manufactured by still unidentified culprits in order to undermine the Copenhagen Climate Summit - which it undoubtedly did. In the subsequent decade, the GWPF have monotonously sought to publicise alleged defaults in climate scientists' work. 

Whilst their reports and press releases are still occasionally referenced in outlets like the Spectator magazine, the Daily Telegraph, and the Mail on Sunday, increasingly the organisation's press statements are greeted with resounding yawns. Indeed, a whole book has recently been published about the waning influence of the organisation and its fellow travellers in the UK's small clique of 'climate sceptics'.

In terms of age, gender, and diversity, the GWPF is the exact antithesis of the grassroots environmental initiatives, such as Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes inspired by Greta Thunberg, that are increasingly commanding headlines and shaping debate.

The GWPF's Hon President and founder chairman is Lord Nigel Lawson, now 88. A man who, thanks to his persistent inaccuracies on climate matters, resulted in the BBC breaching broadcasting standards the last time it discussed the topic with him.

His successor Lord Donoughe was 82 when he succeeded Lawson, but the present chairman is Terence Mordant, the co-owner of Bristol Port, and at 60 by far the youngest of the 10 current trustees. Most of the others are well into their 70s. Inevitably all are white.

None of the trustees professes to having any scientific training in climatology. But then nor does Peiser, the director. He was initially employed as a "historian of ancient sport" at the University of Frankfurt. Immediately prior to taking up his role at the Foundation, he lectured at the School of Sport & Exercise at Liverpool Polytechnic (now John Moore University).

In last Friday's begging email, Peiser explains that "we live in challenging times where radical activists are increasingly trying to stifle free speech" and, rather surprisingly, "destroy the freedom and achievements of The Enlightenment", an historical period that even historians of sport would normally acknowledge is often deemed to have ended by 1815!

Peiser later states that the GWPF works to encourage policymakers "to think beyond the pessimistic narrative on Environmental alarm and limits to growth, which currently hold a near monopoly". A truly daunting task, especially when global temperature records keep on falling. 

It is this educational focus that apparently justifies the Foundation's status as a registered charity - it even uses PayPal's special charitable payments arrangements. Back in 2014 the Charity Commission was very critical that the Foundation's "clear bias" breached charitable rules of impartiality. Consequently the Foundation set up a new separate "Forum" specifically to undertake "campaigns and activities which do not fall squarely within the educational remit of the charity". And yet the latest email seeking resources to support efforts to "regularly encourage policymakers, journalists and the interested public" to adjust their thinking on environmental matters, makes no specific reference to this Forum.

It simply notes that "donations can be made to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the charitable arm of our think tank, or to the American Friends of the GWPF".

Quite who provides the funds to run either the Foundation, or indeed the Forum, remains a mystery. Neither organisation has ever published any details of either its sponsors or the current number of individual supporters. Freedom of Information requests have been rebutted because registered charities are not obliged to provide funding details. In its email GWPF will only say that "in order to make clear its complete independence, the GWPF does not accept donations either from energy companies or from anyone with a significant interest in an energy company". It is, of course, impossible to verify this claim and difficult to define "significant interest".

Times are obviously hard, including for causes that many may consider more deserving than the GWPF. I have shown this begging email to several of those who do understand the true threat that climate change brings to all of us.

The main reaction has been to use the single German word Schadenfreude. Which my dictionary translates as "an expression of pleasure that comes from learning of the troubles and failure of others".

Andrew Warren is a former special advisor to the House of Commons environment committee

MPs warn parts of England face 'serious risk' of running out of water within 20 years

MPs warn parts of England face 'serious risk' of running out of water within 20 years

Select committee delivers damning assessment of government's "lack of leadership" when it comes to managing England's water supply, warning that public awareness campaigns and better oversight over companies water leakage performance is needed

There is a "serious risk" that some parts of England will run out of water within the next 20 years, the Public Accounts Committee has today warned.

A stark report published yesterday by the committee of MPs notes that the country loses a fifth of its daily water supply - more than three billion litres - to leaks every day.

The PAC said water companies have made "no progress" on reducing leakage over the past two decades, and accused the government, Ofwat, and the Environment Agency of having "taken their eye off the ball".

As such, it urged the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) to now "step in and substantially step up efforts" to ensure a reliable water supply in the years ahead.

The Committee delivered a damning verdict on the Department's efforts to manage water supply risks to date, criticising its "lack of leadership" in getting to grips with issues that could threaten water supplies.

"Empty words on climate commitments and unfunded public information campaigns will get us where we've got the last 20 years: nowhere," said Committee Chair Meg Hillier. "Defra has failed to lead and water companies have failed to act: we look now to the department to step up, make up for lost time and see we get action before it's too late."  

PAC argued that Defra must now provide more guidance to water companies on the level of investment needed to ensure resilience over the years to come and how to balance business plans with pressure to reduce consumer bills.

It also recommended that Defra should produce annual league tables for water companies that measure their performance on tackling leakage by the end of the year. And it urged the government to step up efforts to promote water efficiency and run an "effective" public awareness campaign to encourage water saving measures.

The PAC also warned that it was "not convinced" that the UK's 2050 net zero target was sufficiently embedded in the oversight and regulation of the water industry. It asked Ofwat to explain, within the next three months, how it plans to ensure water companies are accounting for their carbon emissions in the planning process.

The ongoing abstraction of water from English rivers and other sources poses ongoing environmental risks, the PAC warned, noting that the government's planned HS2 rail line presents "particular risks" as it will require the removal of up to 10 million litres of water per day to facilitate tunnelling in the Chilterns. The PAC has therefore asked the Environment Agency to set out clear objectives detailing how it intends to eliminating environmental damage from over-abstraction and sewage outflow from rivers and other sources, in particular chalk streams, across England.

Next week, the Committee said it would take evidence on the issues raised in its enquiry from four water companies.

Responding to the report, a spokesperson from Defra said it had embraced a "tougher approach" to poor performance and wastage within the water industry, and urged citizens to be careful with their water use.

"We absolutely recognise the need to safeguard our water supplies for future generations, which is why our National Framework for Water Resources [launched in March 2020] sets out a bold vision for bringing together consumers, businesses and industry to sustainably protect our water supplies," the spokesperson said. "We are already taking a tougher approach to poor performance and wastage within the water industry, while also finding ways to increase supply. But everyone has a part to play, and we urge people to be mindful of their usage and look at practical ways to save this precious resource in their daily lives."

An Environment Agency spokesperson flagged that the public body had made changes to more than 300 unsustainable abstraction licesnses since 2008, saving 47 billion litres of water a year - the equivalent, it said, to supplying the cities of Bristol and Nottingham with water for a whole year.

"We know that if we don't take action now many areas of England will face water shortages by 2050, which is why we are always striving to ensure water supplies are sustainable," the spokesperson added.

Greening the NHS: How sustainability initiatives could save the health service £250m a year

Greening the NHS: How sustainability initiatives could save the health service £250m a year

NHS Sustainability Day campaign launches annual impact report as work continues by expert panel commissioned by NHS England to investigate into how and when the health service can meet net zero

An NHS community healthcare trust that provides services across West Sussex saved £357,000 last year through a new wheelchair recycling scheme, which saw more than 1,400 wheelchairs refurbished and reassigned.

Meanwhile, the Greater Manchester NHS Trusts launched an ambitious procurement programme that aims, among other things, to save 600kg of plastic by banning plastic straws and stirrers, slash the number of logistics vehicle journeys by adopting a centralised dispatch system, and introduce a surgical gown laundry service that will enable the phasing out of single-use plastic gowns.

And in a Bristol hospital, operating theatre energy use was significantly reduced by connecting anaesthetic gas scavenging systems (AGSS) - energy-intensive machines that suck harmful anaesthetic gases from the air - to infrared sensors already used to activate other theatre equipment. The innovation, which ensures that AGSS are disabled an hour after the last movement in a theatre is detected, has allowed the hospital to significantly reduce its energy-related carbon emissions and costs.

These initiatives are just some of the projects outlined in the latest sustainability impact report published by NHS Sustainability Day, a campaign group dedicated to promoting, showcasing, and supporting sustainability initiatives across different trusts and organisations across the NHS.

Scott Buckler, campaign manager for the group, says that interest in sustainable development in the NHS has seen a "huge increase" since 2013, the year the programme was set up. This year's sustainability report, which features 38 projects, is the biggest to date and is symptomatic of a "real step change" around sustainable development across the health service, he says.

Coincidentally, the report comes in the same week as Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a major new one-year £3bn energy efficiency programme, including £1bn specifically assigned for upgrading hospital and school buildings. The hope is that the new funding can build on the progress already being made across the NHS estate.

"We've probably got 50 per cent of the NHS doing some kind of environmental practice," Buckler estimates. "It can be something very small, such as recycling cardboard or switching the lights off, to extremely big projects, [the introduction of] electric vehicles in the North East, solar district heating projects, consumables, procurement... From small to big, they all go toward the overall reduction of carbon and saving money for the NHS."

The NHS, which is Europe's largest employer and the UK's largest emitter, faces a major challenge as it works towards supporting the nation's net zero emissions target. In June, the Environmental Audit Committee told the government it was failing to deliver on climate goals within the health service, warning the NHS had already missed the Climate Change Act's original target of a 34 per cent emissions reduction between 1990 and 2020.

An expert panel is currently investigating how and when the organisation could reach net zero, examining key sources of emissions, from buildings, transport, medical supply chains, and inhalers, and it is due to publish an interim report before the close of the year. The group was convened in January, as NHS England launched an initiative dubbed For a Greener NHS, in a bid to tackle the 'climate health emergency'.

However, few could have predicted the six months that followed the initiative's creation would see NHS professionals confronted with the worst public health crisis in a generation and it remains to be seen whether under pressure trusts have the bandwidth to execute ambitious decarbonisation strategies in the coming months and years. 

But Buckler argues that sustainability iniatives could generate huge savings for the cash-strapped health service, while also unlocking health gains. NHS England is "making positive noises", he concedes, but sustainability "needs to be taken more seriously, because what the [NHS Sustainability Day] impact report will show you, and what our past reports show, is that these little projects are saving some £800,000 a year, in some cases £1.5m." 

And while sustainability initiatives may seem marginal to a health service preoccupied with battling a pandemic with limited stocks of personal protective equipment and incomplete track and trace systems, the simultaneous reality is that the NHS has a duty of care to build a safer, healthier, cleaner, and more resilient environment for its staff, patients, and society, especially given it produces more than one per cent of the UK's domestic waste and 5.4 per cent of its emissions.

In some quarters, there are fears that habits and protocols entrenched by the NHS' coronavirus response will unwind hard-won sustainability progress achieved over the last few years. In a poll of more than 30 trusts and individuals run by NHS Sustainability Day in May, 89 per cent of respondents said they expected the virus to impact environmental initiatives. Respondents' chief concern was about the lasting damage caused by the return of single-use plastics that have been deemed necessary to help reduce the spread of infection.

"Single-use cutlery and single-use mugs were really on the way out, we were doing well on that challenge," Buckler reflects. "We'll see them back in again, and I can see why due to the uncertainty around Covid-19 and its prevention. But I also think that we need to be wary of being too knee-jerk with that and understanding and reflecting on the impact we've had so far." There were also fears that progress on encouraging staff to carpool, cycle and use public transport to commute could also be dashed, as individuals attempt to social distance by avoiding busy public transport.

But despite these challenges, Buckler maintains that sustainability investments are a much-overlooked mechanism that could generate huge savings for the NHS over the years to come. He estimates the health service could save "£250m a year at least" if the smaller projects profiled by NHS Sustainability Day were scaled up. "Of course, it's very difficult for the government or NHS England right now to turn around and say 'there's £100m or £250m for sustainability and environment' given everything the NHS is facing," he says. "But at the same time, it makes sense because the money that could be saved is huge."

A self-confessed realist, Buckler is not holding out for any such grants during a pandemic. A far more realistic solution to scaling up sustainability in the health system, he says, requires an organisation-wide reappraisal of sustainability initiatives as a financial proposition. "If I had my one wish, it would be that sustainable development was seen within every board and trust's business plan for five years as a way of return of investment, and as a way to support front line services," Buckler says. 

Dr Nick Watts, chair of the expert panel commissioned by NHS England to look at how and when the NHS can reach net zero, offers a more favourable assessment of Covid-19's impact on the health service's sustainability ambition.

What the pandemic has done, he says, "is change the way that we think about change in healthcare". "Overnight, the NHS has met these remarkable targets - it has really pulled off quite a Herculean effort - in a way that gives me hope," he argues. "If the NHS can respond to one health crisis like this, and do so very admirably and rapidly, it gives hope for the second health crisis, the longer-term health crisis of climate change… We now have quite an energised profession who are saying: 'we can do that, we've demonstrated that we have the ability to be responsive and adaptive'."

The embrace of telemedicine services over the last couple months to comply with social distancing regulations are a good example of carbon-cutting measures that should stay in place, he says.

The net zero panel Watts is chairing brings together a range of health care and climate professionals, including Committee on Climate Change climate scientist Piers Forster, to identify a realistic target date for the NHS transition to net zero. An interim report, set to be published in two to three months' time - after suffering "just a small" Covid-related delay of a couple weeks - will include the panel's recommended decarbonisation timeline and a series of recommended interventions that NHS should take in the near term.

The timeline and targets the group intends to set out will include emissions produced by NHS buildings and operations, from major hospitals and GP surgeries to tertiary care centres. They will also include indirect emissions, incurred by staff and patients' travel to and from health care centres, as well as supply chain emissions for the goods the NHS procures.

Watts, who is the executive director of Lancet Countdown, a research collaboration dedicated to tracking progress on health and climate change, stresses the NHS deserves credit for its "world leading" response to the climate emergency, which has seen it reduce its emissions by 18 per cent in the last 10 to 12 years. "No other system, no other country comes close to the level and ambition that the NHS and UK have," he explains. "In fact, many other health systems around the world have increased their emissions profile."

The NHS' Sustainable Development Unit, set up after the UK established its first round of carbon targets in the 2008 Climate Change Act, has been critical to steering the organisation's approach. However, echoing Buckler, Watts says that in such a large and disparate organisation individuals are inevitably going to lead the charge. "Public health has to have inspiration and central coordination to an extent, but it really does have to be driven by individuals that are passionate," he argues. "We hope that whatever comes next with the For a Greener NHS programme serves to inspire more of those, rather than adopt a command and control structure."

And what does he think of the government's proposals for decarbonising the health service? The much-touted manifesto promise of 40 new hospitals is significant, he says, because they are scheduled to be greener hospitals which will prove healthier for the climate and patients. And while the announcement this week of an £1bn pot for energy efficiency in hospitals, schools, and other public buildings is a "nice first step", he argues the government needs to now ramp up its ambition. "This is a very long journey from 2020 through to through the next few decades," he says. "We need to sort of keep taking steps and we need to be bigger and faster as we pick up speed."

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