Leaders discuss challenges and solutions in addressing the health impacts of climate change.

Leaders discuss challenges and solutions in addressing the health impacts of climate change.

Public health, academic and government leaders convened Tuesday for the White House Summit on Climate Change and Health to advance action against one of the greatest global threats we face. The all-hands-on-deck collaborative meeting sought to gather resources, solutions and strategies that can equip communities with the tools to protect public health from the impacts of climate change.

The summit, part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, follows up on the president’s commitment to join the public health community with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to engage in a dialogue tackling the public health effects of climate change.

“We are not here today to debate whether climate change is real. We are not here to debate whether or not human activity is contributing to that. These questions have been settled by scientists,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy during his remarks. “But we are here today as public health leaders, as policy makers and as citizens of the planet to figure out what we are in fact going to do about climate change.”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy underscored the importance of action calling climate change the biggest challenge of our time. She said it’s also the biggest health challenge of our time.

The day’s event shared some of the on-the-ground public health efforts already in action to address the climate-related challenges of unhealthy air and water, pollutants and extreme weather.

  • APHA is working as part of a coalition of public health, disease advocacy and medical organizations all dedicated to addressing climate change as a public health issue.
  • United Farm Workers are working to enforce policy that protect farmworkers in extreme heat conditions.
  • A New York City climate health surveillance program has investigated heat wave patterns to identify individuals most impacted by excess heat and collaborates with the National Weather Service to change the threshold for activating the city’s heat emergency plan.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced its emPOWER map, a collaboration with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, that helps health officials and emergency managers prioritize response and develop shelters for people within communities that might be most impacted by power outages due to increased extreme weather events.

The summit concluded with discussion of further challenges the health community faces in protecting the nation’s health from the impacts of climate change, including preparing the next generation of public health leaders, looking at the health care infrastructure and reviewing means of protecting the health of vulnerable populations.

“APHA is fiercely dedicated to this global issue that demands immediate action and collaboration from the medical, disease advocacy and public health communities,” said APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin in a statement and who participated in the summit. “Together, we remain united in our efforts to equip communities with the tools and resources to tackle climate change, support the president’s Climate Action Plan that will help cut carbon pollution and ultimately, protect the public from the health risks of a changing climate.”

To view the White House Public Health and Climate Change Summit, visit the White House on YouTube.  Share your thoughts and keep this conversation going on social media using the hashtag, #ActonClimate. To learn more about climate change and its impacts on health, visit APHA online.