As Prepared For Delivery:
Thank you, Gina, for advancing America’s climate and environmental leadership across two administrations. Thank you, Secretary Becerra, Secretary McDonough, and Admiral Levine for your agencies’ efforts. And, thank you to the public and private health sector leaders here for approaching this issue with the urgency it deserves.
The Hippocratic Oath teaches us that we should “first do no harm.” But, as you’ve heard, our health sector is responsible for nearly a tenth of U.S. emissions. If the health sector were its own country, it would be the world’s seventh largest emitter. That’s not just bad for the health of our planet. It’s bad for the health of our people.
On so many of the health issues our Administration is focused on—from maternal health to mental health—climate change is a force multiplier. For instance, heat poses risks for pregnancy. It exacerbates asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. It increases rates of suicide. Extreme heat fills up emergency rooms, driving up hospital costs and making care less affordable.
That’s not to mention the wildfires that choke the air with pollutants. The hurricanes that knock out hospitals, clinics, and medical supply chains. Warming climates that spread mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile from the tropics to temperate zones. With good reason, more than 70 medical and health professional associations signed a 2019 letter calling climate change the “greatest public health challenge of the 21st century.” As is so often the case, its impacts fall disproportionately on our most vulnerable.
That’s why President Biden has made tackling our climate crisis—and the health sector’s impact in particular—a top priority. During his first week in office, the President signed an executive order on tackling the climate crisis, which directed HHS to create an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity. In Glasgow last November, the United States joined more than 40 countries in pledging to reduce health sector emissions. And, this past Earth Day, HHS issued a call to action to the health care sector—to all of you—to lower its carbon footprint.
In just a few short months, you have risen to the challenge in impressive fashion. Since April, organizations representing more than 650 hospitals as well as thousands of other providers and health care companies have committed to reduce emissions and build resilience to climate change. You’ve pledged to use non-polluting anesthetic gases. Invested in on-site clean energy. Developed plans to support vulnerable communities. And, you’ve done all that even as you continue to grapple with the challenges of a global pandemic that has strained personnel and budgets to the limit.
As my colleagues will discuss further, we are committed to supporting your work. We deeply appreciate your leadership. And, we hope this will be the first of many conversations as we work to strengthen the health of our planet and our people. Now, I’d like to turn it over to our head of the Department of Health and Human Services, Secretary Becerra.