HHS shares update on U.S. progress toward transformation to climate-smart, resilient health care

Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (November 10, 2022) – At a COP27 event today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) delegation expressed the importance of taking climate action to protect public health, provided an update on U.S. leadership at the nexus of these issues, and announced a joint plan with England’s National Health Service (NHS) to align procurement requirements – reflecting both nations’ understanding of the supply chains’ significant contribution to the high emissions from the health care sector.

A year ago at COP26 in Glasgow, the United States joined the COP26 Health Programme, committing to decarbonizing the nation’s health care sector, making health systems more resilient, and protecting the health of people, especially those most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change.

Today, Dr. John Balbus, acting director of HHS’ Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, provided an update on the progress made on those commitments. He reiterated the importance of focusing on the health impacts of climate change and the health sector’s role in mitigating these impacts.

As a demonstration of actions to address these impacts, Balbus provided an update on the Health Sector Climate Pledge, launched in April by HHS in partnership with the White House. This voluntary partnership with the private sector asks health care organizations to commit to decarbonizing their operations and increasing resilience, with a focus on equity. Today, following the Oct. 28 pledge signing deadline, HHS released a list of the 102 organizations that have signed on to this commitment.

The list includes organizations from across the health sector, including health systems, hospitals, group purchasing organizations, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, nonprofits, and technical assistance providers – each expressing their commitment to reducing their GHG emissions and increasing climate resilience.

Balbus shared several reasons why health care must focus on climate, beginning by stating, “The first reason is the most obvious – that climate change has many different health impacts, and those health impacts are occurring right now, in the United States and around the world, with the most severe impacts on those who are already most overburdened by health disparities, by ill health, by poverty, by things like deprivation of social determinants of health, structural racism, etc. We need to strengthen our health systems to protect our people.”

In continuing to make the case for health care’s engagement in climate action, Balbus highlighted the reduction in illness and deaths caused by burning fossil fuels, the economic savings of reducing those illnesses and deaths, and the health sector’s role in contributing to these illnesses and the climate crisis through its own significant GHG emissions.

Statement from Gary Cohen, Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth founder:

“This moment spotlights a critical opportunity to elevate and leverage health care’s unique role in addressing the climate crisis, and conveys the power of health care’s trusted voice and collective purchasing power to move policies and markets, and drive the transformation to climate-smart health care and healthier, more equitable, and resilient communities.

Health Care Without Harm is pleased to be in the company of the many health care leaders that signed HHS’ pledge. We are also grateful for the participation in this pledge by members of our Health Care Climate Council and our Practice Greenhealth partners.

While today’s announcements demonstrate the health sector’s unprecedented momentum to free itself from fossil fuels and in doing so, better meet its healing mission, we challenge more of our nation’s health care systems and stakeholders to set ambitious sustainability goals and build climate considerations into the core of their operations. This work requires all of us, because there’s much to be done, and we can’t afford any further delay.”