Recognizing that global climate change poses a major threat to public health, the Health Care Climate Council, representing 19 leading U.S. health care systems, encourages the Trump Administration to maintain full U.S. participation in the International Paris Agreement. The 2015 agreement by 190 countries to take concrete steps to reduce carbon emissions is essential to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to avoiding the most dangerous health effects of climate change.
Climate change is a major threat to public health. In the United States, the changing climate is already having negative impacts on the health of our patients and communities. A large majority of doctors are increasingly treating patients for climate change-related illnesses and injuries, including injuries due to extreme weather events, heat related illnesses, and respiratory diseases.
Burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas have immediate and harmful health impacts and severe economic costs. Along with carbon dioxide, other toxic pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (soot), and mercury are emitted into the air which cause asthma, bronchitis, and other chronic respiratory diseases, as well as elevated occurrence of premature death. These health impacts cost the U.S. economy $362–887 billion annually, representing 2.5 to 6.0 percent of the national GDP. Without swift and meaningful action taken by both the private and public sectors to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, we expect these health impacts to worsen.
Any proposed solution requires cooperation on the part of every country since every country emits greenhouse gases. As the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses per capita, the United States has a responsibility to participate in the global effort to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The United States must honor the commitment it made to the global community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below the 2005 level by 2025 and commit to an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
Transitioning to an economy driven by clean energy will save millions of dollars in health care costs, create jobs, and prevent catastrophic damage caused by extreme weather. We know that reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is the best way to protect the health of our patients and our communities over the long term. That is why Health Care Climate Council members, Boston Medical Center and Partners HealthCare, are on track to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 47 percent compared to business as usual by 2020. Each of our member systems is acting to dramatically reduce our own impact, while building capacity for climate resilience.
As representatives of 19 leading health systems in the United States, we call on President Trump to maintain U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement and to honor the commitments we made to the global community in 2015.
Established by Health Care Without Harm, the Health Care Climate Council is a leadership network of hospitals committed to strengthening the health sector’s response to climate change. The opinion expressed in this statement does not necessarily reflect the opinions of individual Health Care Climate Council members.