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HHS Launches Office of Climate Change and Health Equity

HHS Launches Office of Climate Change and Health Equity

31 Aug 2021

Video source: YouTube, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has launched a new office designed to address the health impacts and disparities caused by climate change. 

In a press release Monday, HHS said the new Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE) will be focused on protecting vulnerable communities that “disproportionately bear the brunt of pollution and climate-driven disasters, such as drought and wildfires, at the expense of public health.”

OCCHE aims to offer protections for populations most at risk — including the elderly, minorities, children and those in rural communities — and address health disparities that result from climate change and assisting with regulations focused on greenhouse gas emissions reductions throughout the healthcare sector.

The World Health Organization estimates that at least 250,000 deaths will occur every year due to climate change.

“History will judge us for the actions we take today to protect our world and our health from climate change. The consequences for our inaction are real and worsening. We’ve always known that health is at the center of climate change, and now we’re going to double-down on a necessity: fighting climate change in order to help protect public health in our communities.” HHS secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

The OCCHE is the first office of its kind at the national level and will report to a White House climate task force.

Its creation was mandated by a January executive order on the climate crisis, which is part of President Joe Biden’s efforts to address the damaging environmental effects of increased greenhouse gases. The administration’s goal is at least a 50% reduction in US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Transportation remains the single biggest source of emissions, but every economic sector is being scrutinized to meet the White House’s target. 

The healthcare system is estimated to account for about 10% of the carbon dioxide emitted annually in the US. 

Engaging the hospital industry to cut emissions and provide greener, more environmentally-friendly medical care, will be the new office’s biggest challenge, The Associated Press noted.

Becerra told reporters on Monday that the administration will use government-owned hospitals as models for best practices for carbon footprint reduction and lobby the industry’s top leaders to follow. He did not rule out regulatory action.

“We are going to reach out to various industries and speak to them as much as we can,” Becerra said.

“I'm not interested in sitting around and waiting,” he cautioned. “If the science is with us, if we have the authorities to move… I've instructed the team that we're going to move.”

The establishment of the new office follows a summer filled with extreme heat and drought, growing wildfires and powerful hurricanes.

“Climate change is turbo-charging the horrific wildfires, extreme heat, and devastating floods that are killing people and making millions more sick from exposure to unhealthy smoke, mold and debilitating heat," said National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy in a statement. 

"The new HHS Office of Climate Change and Health Equity is fulfilling President Biden’s vision to bring America’s world-class medical community into the fight against climate change — a fight for our health that ensures no community is left behind.” 


Source: Equities News