The Lancet Commission characterized climate change as both the "biggest global health threat" and "the greatest global health opportunity" of the 21st century. The evidence is clear: Our worsening climate is bad for our health—it’s linked to respiratory and cardiovascular disease and poor mental health, and it causes injuries and death. This impacts all of us, but not in the same ways. Children, the elderly, people with chronic illnesses, low-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized communities are being disproportionately impacted. And health care is on the front lines of the climate crisis, bearing the costs of treating these increased illnesses amid more frequent, severe extreme weather events.
The health care sector—with its healing mission and a commitment to “do no harm”—has a unique responsibility and opportunity to act, including addressing its own role in contributing to climate change.
Representing 18 percent of the U.S. GDP, the health care sector can have an outsized impact on the economy by using its purchasing power to drive the transition to clean energy and a low-carbon, resilient supply chain. Hospitals are often one of the largest local employers, making them valued anchor institutions and essential partners for advancing mitigation and climate resilience strategies in the communities they serve. Hospitals not only have a stake in directly addressing climate change, but they can also help reframe the climate change debate—focusing on clean air, healthy communities, and lower health care costs.
If we act now, the worst effects of climate change can be prevented, and such prevention presents a significant opportunity to simultaneously improve health outcomes and reduce health inequities.
A framework for action
Health Care Without Harm has developed a three-pillar framework for health system action on climate
The health care sector radically reduces its own emissions and implements low-carbon health care delivery, using its supply chain leverage to drive the market transition to a low-carbon, more equitable economy. Learn more >
The health care sector prepares its facilities for climate impacts while moving beyond traditional clinical boundaries to work together and in partnership with communities to advance resilience, health, and equity. Learn more >
Health care institutions and professionals act as critical messengers for climate crisis as a public health crisis and become powerful advocates for climate-smart policies at all levels of government and in health care oversight organizations. Learn more >
The ultimate goal is for health systems to start by doing no harm, mitigating direct fossil fuel emissions so that the delivery of health care creates no negative health impacts, and to evolve to a healing role, building community health and resilience and creating conditions for all communities to thrive.
Health care rises to the challenge
Health Care Climate Challenge
Hospitals can commit to climate-smart health care by joining the Health Care Climate Challenge. The Health Care Climate Challenge provides participants with easy-to-use resources to help support climate-smart solutions and a login to submit data.
Health Care Climate Council
The Health Care Climate Council is a leadership body of U.S.-based health systems committed to protecting their patients and employees from the health impacts of climate change and becoming anchors for resilient communities. Health Care Climate Council members implement innovative climate solutions, inspire and support others to act, and use their trusted voice and purchasing power to move policy and markets to drive the transformation to climate-smart health care.
Health professionals rise to the challenge
There are many opportunities for health professionals to support the transition to climate-smart health care in their health care organizations, including starting or joining a green team, educating their colleagues, or by making the case for climate-smart health care to leadership. Health professionals can also educate their patients and communities about the health impacts of climate change and advocate for the development and implementation of local, state, national and international climate solutions.
Health Care Without Harm’s Physician Network supports emerging and established physician leaders in leveraging their influence and expertise to advance the growing health care sustainability movement and to create climate-smart health care.
Nurses Climate Challenge
The Nurses Climate Challenge is a national initiative presented in partnership with the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments that mobilizes nurses to educate health professionals about the health impacts of climate change. As one of the most trusted professions worldwide, nurses are ideal advocates for increased climate action in the health care sector.