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Our commitments to climate, health and sustainability 2024-2026


Published: 12 March 2024

Version: 1.0

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Climate change is affecting our planet and will continue to have huge implications for human health. The World Health Organisation considers the climate crisis the 'single biggest health threat facing humanity' (WHO, 2021). Health and social care research has a key role in helping make healthcare services more sustainable and resilient to climate change, protecting human health from its impacts, and promoting human health through new innovations to support the move to net zero.

These commitments focus on environmental sustainability, climate change and health. Our NIHR portfolio reflects this, researching a wide range of issues, from the impacts of climate change on health and the decarbonisation of healthcare systems to fostering resilient populations and health and care systems. This commitment includes domestic and global healthcare systems and aligns with our mission to enhance the health and wealth of the nation through research.

Our 2024-2026 commitments highlight the importance to NIHR of engaging in climate, health and sustainability research and capacity building. We are also committed to reducing the carbon footprint of our organisation, and of the research system more broadly.

We have 4 key areas of focus, reflecting the broad capability NIHR has across these domains:

  • Reducing the environmental impact of NIHR central operations 
  • Funding research into climate, health and environmental sustainability 
  • Ensuring knowledge mobilisation of research across these areas to maximise impact
  • Building capacity around environmental sustainability, and climate and health in the research community

Key outcomes across these areas illustrated below. Across all areas 2 cross-cutting themes are integral to successful progress.

  • Building global, cross sector partnerships and networks
  • Ensuring our work addresses ongoing NIHR priorities to tackle global health inequalities

4 boxes showing the different commitments of operational footprint, knowledge mobilisation, training and capacity and funding research

Reducing the environmental impact of NIHR central operations

We must first understand our current emissions and take action to reduce the carbon footprint of core NIHR operations, delivered by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the NIHR Co-ordinating Centres and the NIHR Clinical Research Network/ Research Delivery Network Co-ordinating Centre. 

To publish a baseline for our carbon footprint, and to develop our action plan to reduce it. As part of this work, we will outline our reporting processes against the action plan. 2024/25
To benchmark waste generation and water usage. We will develop an action plan to minimise waste and identify opportunities to improve water efficiency. 2024/25
DHSC will ensure, that all hosts of future contracts for NIHR Coordinating Centres will have a carbon reduction plan and an active programme of work to deliver against it. 2024/25

Funding climate, health and sustainability research

Research is essential to find effective ways to improve the environmental sustainability of the health, social care and research systems. Also vital is understanding how best to protect human health from the effects of climate change, and to ensure that new innovations protect and promote human health. Enabling discovery of innovative solutions, evidence-based practices and new methods and technologies will support a more sustainable, resilient and healthier future.

We will increase funding for high-quality research which aims to help the health and care system become more sustainable, reach net zero and be more resilient to a changing climate. 2024/25
We will increase funding for high quality research which aims to protect and promote human health in the face of a changing climate, both domestically and globally. 2024/25
We will fund methods to calculate, monitor and reduce the carbon footprint of clinical research. 2024/25
We will expand on mechanisms to provide additional funding for 'studies within a project' to help reduce the carbon impact of existing NIHR research. We will share case studies and evidence of successful practices. 2024/25

Knowledge Mobilisation of Climate, Health and Sustainability Research

Publishing and disseminating the findings of research we fund is crucial to facilitating sharing of knowledge, best practice and providing actionable insights for policymakers and practitioners. Transparent and widespread dissemination of research not only amplifies the impact of research, but aligns with the principles of responsible sustainable research.

We will use NIHR Evidence as the key website for promoting plain English summaries of relevant research on sustainability, climate and health. 2025/26
To revisit the Impact and Learning heading within NIHR Journals Library synopsis and expand our guidance to ensure outcomes reporting meets our stakeholders needs. 2024/25
NIHR Journals Library will align with STM Social Responsibility work, which drives collective actions across academic and scholarly publishing that will positively contribute to a more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable world for both people and planet. 2024/25
NIHR Journals Library will work towards becoming a signatory of the United Nations SDG Publishers Compact  and in doing so commit to develop sustainable practices and act as champions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), publishing journals that will help inform, develop, and inspire action in that direction. 2024/25

Building capacity in the research community

Enhancing researcher capacity is essential for effectively addressing environmental challenges. By equipping researchers with the skills and knowledge needed, we ensure a skilled and innovative research community capable of driving impactful contributions to the broader climate, health and sustainability agenda.

We will facilitate 'matchmaking' between researchers with experience in this area and researchers more widely so that we can grow expertise across the system. 2024/25
We will build research capacity in health and care research through the NIHR Academy. 2025/26
We will build our network of reviewers and panel members with expertise in the sustainability of research and healthcare systems. 2024/25
We will ensure that all NIHR staff have access to climate, health and sustainability awareness training. 2024/25

Cross cutting themes

Building sustainability and net-zero partnerships with the research community and the health and care system

Collaborating and building partnerships in this area is vital. By sharing expertise we can leverage collective knowledge and resources to develop sustainable practices and policies that address the environmental challenges in health and social care and research. Through partnership we can maximise our impact, accelerating the transition to a more sustainable future.

Our commitments for 2024/25 in this area are:

  • NIHR will continue to work with other research funders to help reduce the carbon footprint of research activities.
  • We will partner with international centres of excellence to improve the sustainability of our research. We will ensure we share international best practices with UK researchers.
  • We will agree on a position on funding for carbon offsetting in NIHR awards.
  • We will establish an NIHR community to allow individuals across NIHR with a shared interest to connect and share learning.

Ensuring a continued goal to reduce health inequalities in our work  

Climate change exacerbates existing health inequalities with an additional marked imbalance between the Global North and South. Any work in climate, health and sustainability must ensure that equity is at the heart of decisions and processes. This commitment ensures that our initiatives address climate-related health challenges, focusing on domestic and global equity and resilience. 

  • We will ensure that our approach aligns with existing NIHR research inclusion strategies and equality impact assessments across the entire programme of work.

Delivering against our commitments

We recognise that the impacts of the climate crisis are happening now. There is a significant need to accelerate our knowledge and expertise across health and social care research so that we can tackle climate change. The commitments mark the initial steps that NIHR plans to take to start progress in this vital area of work and we will publish a progress report against these commitments annually which will be signed off at NIHR Board level.