Story at a glance
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the first federal office focused on climate change and public health.
- The Office of Climate Change and Health Equity will focus on sustainable infrastructure and reducing emissions from U.S. hospital systems.
- Ensuring all communities have access to health care equipped to deal with the effects of climate change is also paramount.
On Monday, the Biden administration announced the establishment of a new office within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that will specifically address climate change and its effects, focusing on how it affects public health.
The office will be called the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE). In a video announcement on Twitter, one critical goal of the office will focus on health equity and address the disparities Americans of color suffer regarding the impacts of climate change.
“There is no doubt that America is experiencing climate change,” Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “It’s not just about our environment, it’s about our health.”
Becerra cited the recent severity of Hurricane Ida and the prolonged wildfires in the western U.S. states as ample evidence that the disastrous effects of climate change are here.
“This is the first office of its kind at the national level to address climate change and health equity,” he added.
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Multiple agencies have warned of the severe and potentially irreversible effects climate change will have on the world and its ecosystems if no action is taken. Earlier in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of rising sea levels and warmer ocean temperatures that can lead to stronger natural disasters without the immediate reduction of carbon emissions.
The office will specifically focus on three areas that are heavily tied to sustainable infrastructure, including promoting community resistance to climate change, especially in underprivileged areas, partnering with the country’s health systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote resilience, and supporting new, stronger infrastructure.
Improving other departmental and agency responses to the public health effects of climate change is another goal for the office. An example of an issue within the office’s purview includes preventing hazardous construction near vulnerable communities that could taint nearby water and air quality.
Rachel Levine, assistant secretary of health, cited the health care sector contributing about 8.5 percent of the U.S.’s total emissions. She said lowering this figure was “critical” to President Biden’s overall agenda of reducing the country’s emission levels. She confirmed during a question that the new office is already in touch with some hospital systems to begin implementing changes to reduce carbon emissions.
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