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NIHR launches new climate health and sustainability commitments

Published: 12 March 2024

NIHR has launched a major new pledge to climate change and sustainability in health and social care research.

Today’s commitments set out key steps we will take to engage in climate, health and sustainability research and capacity building. We are also committing to reduce the carbon footprint of NIHR and the wider research community.

Our new Climate Health and Sustainability Commitments set out our next steps towards developing sustainable and resilient health, social care and research systems.

New research funding through a £25m funding call to help the health and social care system become more sustainable and reach net zero will follow soon.

Dr Sophia Lentzos, NIHR Head of Sustainability, said: “We recognise 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.

“We need to start recognising the vital intersection of health and climate and start prioritising health at the heart of climate change knowledge and decision-making. Our commitments mark the initial steps that NIHR plans to take to start progress in this vital area of work.”

New commitments

Our commitments cover several areas, including:

  • Reducing the environmental impact of NIHR central operations
  • Funding research into climate, health and environmental sustainability
  • Publishing and disseminating findings to share knowledge and maximise research impact (knowledge mobilisation)
  • Building capacity around climate, health and sustainability in the research community.

Understanding our current emissions will enable us to take action to reduce our carbon footprint. This will include developing action plans to minimise waste generation and water usage.

We will increase funding for high quality research which aims to help the health and social care system become more sustainable and reach net zero.

We will encourage transparent and widespread dissemination of research findings. This includes publishing in the NIHR Journals Library and NIHR Evidence. This will boost knowledge sharing and inform policy makers and practitioners.

Other pledges include:

  • Building research capacity in climate and health through the NIHR Academy
  • ‘Matchmaking’ researchers with experience in this area with those newer to the subject. This will grow expertise across the system.

Dr Lentzos added: “Research will be essential to search for new ways to improve the environmental sustainability and climate resilience of the health, social care and research systems.

“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.

“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.”

£25m funding call

The £25m funding call to decarbonise the health and social care system will open in November 2024 to coincide with COP29. The call will invite funding applications to a total of £5m and similar calls will be made annually in the subsequent four years. This new annual call demonstrates NIHRs commitment to building research knowledge in this area for the longer term.

This call seeks to address the urgent knowledge gaps to reduce the environmental impact of the system. It aims to do this whilst improving health outcomes and sustainability of the health and social care system.

Preceding the call opening will be a package of support for researchers. This includes a host webinar and workshops to support researchers in the call.

Chris Gormley, Acting Chief Sustainability Officer, NHS England, said: “We know that climate change is a health emergency, and that’s why, in 2020, the NHS took a pioneering step by committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions, to help tackle climate change at source and improve health now and for future generations.

“The NHS remains at the forefront of reducing the environmental impact of healthcare and research has a vital role to play in helping the health service fulfil its commitment and supporting the implementation needed, at scale and at pace.

“We urge the research community to seize this opportunity to contribute to our journey towards sustainability, and extend our gratitude to NIHR for their crucial support in advancing this important work – together, let's strive towards a healthier and greener future for all.”

More details of the call will be launched soon.

Read more about NIHR’s Sustainability Commitments.

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