In June 2019 Newcastle upon Tyne Hospital was the first (and, to date, only) NHS Trust to officially declare a climate emergency, and to commit to being Zero Carbon by 2040.

Note: This opinion piece was compiled by means of a telephone interview with James who has asked me to highlight that this represents his personal views on the subject, for sharing with IEMA colleagues, and not those of his employer (author, Clare Topping MIEMA CEnv, Energy & Sustainability Manager at Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust)

The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust(NUTH) is the first NHS organisation to declarea Climate Emergency and to publically commit to an ambitious target of carbonneutrality by 2040.James Dixon shareshis personal views on eco-anxiety, his journey to getting Newcastle Hospitalsto declare a climate emergency, and what that might mean in practice:

I have been at Newcastle Hospitals ince 2010, and we have done a lot of goodwork to deliver more sustainable healthcare services including: on-site CHP;purchasing renewables for any top-up grid electricity we require; recyclingover 40% of our non-clinical waste; sending zero waste to landfill since 2011and investing in electric vehicles and buses for staff.But in 2018 with the wide-spread mediaattention of our impending climate breakdown, from the likes of the IPCCreport, Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion (XR), I personally felt asthough I was not doing enough; it felt as though we had lost momentum.I had started to suffer from EcoAnxiety.

At the beginning of 2019 I attended an NHS SustainabilityLeads meeting in London.I heard aboutthe great things being done in Bristol by Sam Willitts and Esther Coffin-Smith,and the cross city consensus gathering in Manchester with Claire Igoe.This pushed me to start mapping out whatneeded to happen at Newcastle.

The first step was to get in front of the Board.It was rare that anything related toSustainability, other than our annual Sustainability report, was tabled t Board.I persuaded our states Directorto take a one page proposal paper to the weekly Executive Team meeting, requestingthat the Trust make a bold move and declare a Climate Emergency.The paper was well received, with the hooksof civic collaboration (Newcastle City Council and Newcastle University had alreadydeclared) and establishing a leadership position with regards to action on thebiggest threat to global health this century (and the moral imperative ofirst do no harmenshrined in the Hippocratic oath).

Whilst initial feedback was positive, the Executive Team didseek clarification on deliverability and cost before agreeing to table atBoard.After several email conversations,during which potential for carbon offsetting was raised and then reserved for2040, we had agreed on a more detailed final paper to be presented to the finalExecutive Team meeting before the deadline for June Board meeting papers.

Feeling like the opportunity was slipping away, I decided togift a copy of Greta Thunberg book i>NoOne is Too Small to Make a Differenceto Dame Jackie Daniel, the ChiefExecutive Officer of the Trust.Knowingthat Dame Jackie loves a good book, and is a keen advocate f compassionate leadership and empoweringstaff, I thought it might help demonstrate the drivers but also the benefits ofapproval. I arrived early on the morning of the Exec Team meeting anddelivering it to her office I asked her PA to ensure she received it before themeeting was due to start. This achieved, I waited anxiously with my fingerscrossed.The proposal paper was approvedby the Exec Team, allowing it to go to hefull Board meeting with Executive Director backing, and I received a lovelythank you email from Dame Jackie later that dayTwo weeks later and I was in front of my first public meeting of theTrust Board of Directors. I was given an eight minute slot to table my proposalpaper, so I took the opportunity and put a few key slides together to help persuadethem. I included: what the declaration meant to us (three key elements linkedto the XR demands of telling the truth about the climate crisis, acting now oncarbon reduction and collaborating with a civic assembly); how we might achieve it (a graph showing variousscenarios, i.e. business-as-usual, demand reduction including the grid decarbonisationforecasts and potential for the Northern Hydrogen network to be live by 2035);assurance of good performance in this field to-date (key Sustainability Teamachievements) and ending on why we should (greatest threat to health thiscentury, moral duty to reduce harm from carbon and air pollution i.e. irst dono harm. That said, I knew a leap of faith was still required so my lastslide cited Greta Thunberg athedral Thinkinganalogy - that they needed tobe brave and lay the foundations without knowing what the ceiling looks like. Thepresentation was very well received and the proposal was unanimously agreed!

Although our overall declaration includes all scopes of ourgreenhouse gas emissions, we are focusing on driving down our Scope 1 and 2 emissionswhich, as a large city centre specialist acute hospitals Trust, the vast majorityis building energy related.We are notignoring Scope 3, but at the moment it is difficult to measure and account for thisaccurately for all that we buy, so accounting for progress in this area isstill a work in progress. I had to manage the Board expectations on this,highlighting that this still sits within our action plan but progress will bedemonstrated through case studies whilst we work with NHS England on NHS scope3 accounting granularity.

Dame Jackie is now a big advocate for bolder action and isputting it on the Agenda wherever possible, and at much higher levels than Iwould have thought possible six months ago.She believes that action on Climate Change is very inclusive whateversomeone status we all need to breathe and have access to food and water,whatever someone carbon footprint, there is something everyone can doindividually.

Whilst this covers the significant improvement in my work-relatedEco Anxiety, I am not stopping there.Iwant to do more to bring about the system change required, ensuring our MPs andgovernment do everything they can to meet the existential crisis that isclimate breakdown. I been so impressed with the progress that ExtinctionRebellion have made to bring this to the public conscience I feel compelledto ensure I doing everything I can to ensure I on the right side ofhistory. This is our generation civil rights movement. Ie attended Schoolstrikes for climate with my daughter and have supported local XR activities inNewcastle.

In starting to read more widely on climate science I believethat the IPCC reports are a more politically acceptable version of what our near-termclimate scenarios will look like, and I still despair about what the futureholds for my children. Il keep doing everything within my power to mitigatethis but, without urgent and systemic change from central government, our focuswill soon have to change to deep adaptation in order to address the likelyclimate and social impacts of this crisis.

/o:p>Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.


Photo of Clare Topping
Clare Topping

Clare is the Energy and Sustainability Manager at Northampton General Hospital.