HHS unveils Climate Change and Health Equity Strategy Supplement at COP28; the plans detail over 50 future actions and anticipated collaborations on clinical decarbonization within federal health systems

Sample article from our Health Care Sector

DUBAI, UAE , December 4, 2023 (press release) –

Highlights include a new HHS Climate Change and Health Equity Strategy Supplement and planned work by federal health systems on clinical decarbonization

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) delegation to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) today released, during its first-ever Health Day, a Climate Change and Health Equity Strategy Supplement, outlining the work of agencies across the Department to support climate resilience and greenhouse gas emission reduction in the U.S. Health Sector.

"This year we've seen real acceleration on tackling climate change from across HHS and across the health sector," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. "We're proud of what agencies across the Department have accomplished and pleased to see them increase their work in this area. It's urgently important given the climate-related threats to health we've seen across the country in the last year."

The HHS Climate Change and Health Equity Strategy Supplement (a supplement to the 2021 HHS Climate Action Plan - PDF) for the first time describes in one place HHS agencies' accomplishments and planned actions to help public health, health care and human services stakeholders better address climate-related risks and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The Supplement includes more than 50 planned actions – such as research programs, forecasting tools and technical assistance supports for communities and healthcare providers – and outlines forward-looking areas of work.

The HHS delegation also announced planned collaboration between federal health systems on clinical decarbonization, provided an update on the White House-HHS Health Sector Climate Pledge, and described ongoing collaboration with the National Health Service (NHS) of England and other nations to create aligned expectations for emissions reporting and target setting from health sector suppliers.

"HHS returns this year to COP28 to report great progress," said ADM Rachel Levine, the Assistant Secretary for Health. "Through the efforts of the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, several other HHS agencies, and federal health systems, we have taken important steps towards increasing climate resilience and reducing harmful emissions. We see great promise for the U.S. health sector through the funds made available by the landmark Inflation Reduction Act, and we also feel very optimistic about what our ongoing international collaborations will yield."

ADM Levine and Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs Loyce Pace represented the United States at COP28 Health Day, bringing together health ministers from more than 80 countries to discuss the health implications of climate change and shared commitments to resilience and emissions reduction.

"Our national efforts to reduce emissions and support resilience are a critical aspect of our global public health leadership," said Loyce Pace, Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs. "The HHS Climate Change and Health Equity Strategy Supplement is yet another key example of our commitment to mitigate climate change and prioritize public health in the U.S. and around the globe."

The HHS delegation provided an update on its collaboration with England's NHS to align procurement requirements for suppliers – particularly with respect to target setting and emissions disclosures - as much as possible. This reflects both nations' understanding of the significant contribution of the supply chain to the health care sector's overall emissions, which account for an estimated 8.5% of U.S. emissions. HHS and NHS have worked closely to document how their requirements overlap and plan to soon release their work; several other nations are also considering joining them.

In 2021, HHS joined the COP26 Health Programme and committed to supporting the development of a climate resilient and low-carbon health sector. In the two years that have followed, the Biden-Harris Administration has introduced a series of initiatives and resources to protect the health of people living in the U.S. from climate change. These include the White House-HHS Health Sector Climate Pledge, a voluntary commitment to climate resilience and emissions reduction that includes cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050. So far, more than 130 organizations representing more than 900 hospitals have signed on. In addition to hospitals, these stakeholders include health centers, suppliers, insurance companies, group purchasing organizations, pharmaceutical companies and more. The HHS Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE) provides organizations working to address climate challenges with a number of tools to support their work. In particular, these tools emphasize opportunities for investments in resilience, clean energy and building efficiency created by the Inflation Reduction Act through the "IRA Quickfinder" guide.

As required by executive order, federal agencies that provide healthcare services, including the HHS Indian Health Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Bureau of Prisons are working together to meet goals similar to those the private sector organizations have embraced. These federal agencies also announced joint work, facilitated by OCCHE, to explore emissions associated with clinical care such as those from anesthetic gases, certain types of inhalers, and medical waste produced in care processes.

Resources and Supports:

Notable HHS actions from the last year to support healthcare sector stakeholders include:

  • Launching the OCCHE Health Sector Resource Hub, a one-stop web destination with supports for organizations working on climate resilience and sustainability with tools including a referral guide for providers, a compendium of federal funding resources for work in this area, the IRA Quickfinder and a related webinar series.
  • Launching an Environmental Justice Index, which ranks the cumulative impacts of environmental injustice on health for every census tract. Census tracts are subdivisions of counties for which the Census collects statistical data. The EJI ranks each tract on 36 environmental, social, and health factors and groups them into three overarching modules and ten different domains.
  • Launching an OCCHE Climate and Health Outlook Portal and other tools to help forecast and document climate-related threats including an OCCHE-Department of Transportation EMS Heat Tracker , mapping local emergency responses to heat-related illness.
  • Supporting individuals, families and communities as they manage the challenge presented by climate change, including $3.7 billion in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds announced in October.
  • Issuing a categorical waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to allow many healthcare providers to supply emergency back-up power through healthcare microgrid systems (e.g., clean energy technologies like wind, solar and fuel cells).
  • Broadening research on climate health through the National Institutes of Health Climate Change and Health Initiative Strategic Framework - PDF and providing support to states and cities to protect at-risk populations from climate impacts through initiatives like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Climate-Ready States and Cities Initiative.
  • Releasing the newest version of the Heat & Health Tracker. The Heat and Health Tracker provides real-time, local heat and health information so communities can better prepare for and respond to extreme heat events. With the latest update, you can now track the annual rate of work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths, due to heat per 10,000 full-time workers by state.

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