Protecting Americans’ health and well-being has always been at the heart of fighting climate change, and now for the first time, its importance is being elevated at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS is establishing the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE) in response to President Joe Biden’s Executive Order Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. This is the first office of its kind at the national level to address climate change and health equity. The Office’s mission is to protect vulnerable communities who disproportionately bear the brunt of pollution and climate-driven disasters, such as drought and wildfires, at the expense of public health.
“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.” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
With the threats of extreme heat and drought, growing wildfires, and a high risk of hurricanes so evident this summer, HHS is mobilizing its resources to protect the health of all Americans. The World Health Organization estimates that at least 250,000 deaths will occur every year due to climate change. The threats to health are serious and numerous. But we have the ability to protect people, especially in our most vulnerable pockets of America.
“COVID-19 highlighted the inequities faced throughout our nation. Unfortunately, some of the same groups disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 will be the same groups struggling the most with the effects of climate change on our health. We will use the lessons learned from COVID-19 to address these disparities, prioritizing and protecting the nation’s health,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel L. Levine.
“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. 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,” said National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy.
The new office will play a pivotal role in protecting our health, our communities’ health, and the health of our world.
OCCHE is tasked with:
- Identifying communities with disproportionate exposures to climate hazards and vulnerable populations.
- Addressing health disparities exacerbated by climate impacts to enhance community health resilience.
- Promoting and translating research on public health benefits of multi-sectoral climate actions.
- Assisting with regulatory efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and criteria air pollution throughout the health care sector, including participating suppliers and providers.
- Fostering innovation in climate adaptation and resilience for disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations.
- Providing expertise and coordination to the White House, Secretary of Health and Human Services and federal agencies related to climate change and health equity deliverables and activities, including Executive Order implementation, and reporting on health adaptation actions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
- Promoting training opportunities to build the climate and health workforce and empower communities.
- Exploring opportunities to partner with the philanthropic and private sectors to support innovative programming to address disparities and health sector transformation.