Trump Withdraws, Health Care Must Now Lead

As an organization committed to promoting the health of people and the environment, Health Care Without Harm disagrees in the strongest possible terms with President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the global Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement is a historic and monumental achievement. The result of over two decades of diplomatic negotiations, the climate accord includes participation by nearly every country on the planet. The pledge of member nations to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and to prevent a global health crisis. U.S. leadership is critical to successful implementation of the Agreement, and the decision to withdraw threatens to undermine the Agreement’s effectiveness in solving the climate crisis.

Climate change and pollution from coal-fired power plants pose serious threats to human health. For this reason, physicians who work with Health Care Without Harm are responding to Trump’s announcement with concern.

"For people with respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD and those with cardiovascular diseases, the quality of the air they breathe is critical to their survival,” said Dr. Emily Senay, Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “To save lives from natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and heat and to protect our children from the consequences of a warming planet, we must do all we can to move away from fossil fuels. The United States must take the lead to create a future that is cleaner and healthier and therefore must remain in the Paris Climate Agreement. Our health depends on the health of our air and water, and our actions have immediate consequences and as physicians we must do all we can to protect our environment."

As Gary Cohen, Co-founder and President of Health Care Without Harm explains, despite Trump’s decision, health care systems are motivated to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions and will work with local and state leaders to advance the progress that has already been made:

“Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement demonstrates his fundamental defense of the fossil fuel industry and places the United States alone and in opposition to the defense of our children and the future health of the planet. The good news is that progress on climate solutions will continue to accelerate as cities, hospitals, schools, and businesses are increasingly showing the way toward a low-carbon future."

Health care systems are stepping up their leadership. Recognizing the dangers of coal to human health, Dignity Health, one of the nation’s largest health systems, has restricted investments in coal and expanded investments in sustainable assets. Last year Virginia Mason in Seattle hosted a workshop on climate-resilient health care and led the creation of the Washington Climate Declaration signed by 250 businesses. Through greater energy efficiency and investments in renewable energy, Partners Health and Boston Medical Center are on track to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 47 percent compared to “business as usual.”

Addressing the climate crisis is integral to advancing the health care sector’s healing mission. While the Trump Administration rolls back U.S. climate leadership in the global community, it is crucial that the health sector continues to take action on mitigation efforts, planning for adaptation, and building community resilience, and be the trusted messenger on the intersection of climate and health.