The Biden administration last week issued a "call to action" for members of the U.S. health care industry to take part in a new climate initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the health care sector.
HHS launches initiative to reduce emissions in the health care sector
HHS established The Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in September 2021. And last week, HHS, in partnership with the White House, invited members of the U.S. health care industry to match or surpass the measures federal health systems are already taking to reduce their emissions and prevent further environmental harm. The initiative also challenges private health systems to factor climate considerations into the future of health care.
Specifically, the voluntary pledge asks stakeholders in the health care industry to, at a minimum:
- Reduce their organization's emissions by 50% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050, while publicly reporting their progress
- Take inventory of their organization's Scope 3 (supply chain) emissions
- Designate an executive to lead the creation of climate resilience plans for their facilities and communities
"We need all players on the field confronting the climate crisis; sitting on the sidelines is not an option." said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. "Every stakeholder group in America must step up, and collaboration across the public and private sector is key. At HHS, we stand ready to partner with as many players as possible. Reducing emissions and fighting climate change's catastrophic and chronic impact on vulnerable people is key to building a healthier nation."
"The health care sector contributes 8.5% of total U.S. emissions, so they have a big role to play," said National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy. "We are excited for health care leaders across the country willing to step up, reduce emissions, and help us reach the President's bold climate goals."
Although rising temperatures have a widespread impact on public health, governments have not historically labeled rising temperatures as a public health issue. And while climate change is an issue HHS does not actually regulate, Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health, who oversees the climate change office, said it can use the "bully pulpit" to push businesses toward greener practices.
Notably, city and state public health officials in the Pacific Northwest claimed it will take hundreds of billions of dollars to mitigate the climate-related health problems. "Climate change is the single greatest health threat to humanity," said Jeffrey Duchin, a health officer for Seattle and King County. "And I've been preoccupied with Covid over the last two years."
Currently, there is no dedicated funding for President Joe Biden's climate office inside HHS—despite the administration's request for $3 million to staff a team of eight people.
Ultimately, Levine hopes to garner more funding in the coming years. "I believe that some have a sense of urgency about climate change, and of course, others don't," Levine said.
"We are encouraged by the bold and specific commitments to decarbonization that many organizations across the country have already made," Levine added. "It is time for us to both celebrate those commitments and galvanize others to take this critical step." (HHS press release, 4/22; Bloomberg Law, 4/22; Owermohle, Politico, 4/18)