Oregon Health & Science University today was recognized at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27, for pledging ongoing action to reduce carbon emissions in the health care sector and make health care facilities more resilient to the effects of climate change.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services celebrated the important commitment by OHSU and others at the 27th international climate change conference, being held in Egypt.
Along with more than 1,000 health care organizations, OHSU has formally committed to pursuing the Biden administration’s climate goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050. OHSU recognizes climate change as a public health challenge and already has taken steps across the university to curb emissions, including: purchasing 75% of electricity from carbon-free sources; designing all new buildings to aim for LEED Gold certification; and creating an innovative transportation program for its thousands of employees to reduce single-occupancy vehicle travel — avoiding millions of pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
“We fully expect that a failure to address climate challenges will have detrimental consequences on public health, including access to needed health care like emergency services,” said OHSU President Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., FACS.
A September 2021 consensus statement from more than 200 medical journals named climate change the No. 1 threat to global public health. It exposes millions of people in the United States to harm every year — with disproportionate impacts on communities that are often already the victims of longstanding discrimination — through increases in extreme heat waves, wildfires, flooding, vector-borne diseases and other factors that worsen chronic health conditions. The health care sector also contributes to climate change, accounting for approximately 8.5% of U.S. domestic emissions.
The HHS Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE), part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, developed the White House/HHS Health Sector Climate Pledge to help focus industry response to climate challenges. In addition to reducing their carbon footprint, signatories also commit to producing detailed plans to prepare their facilities for both chronic and acute catastrophic climate impacts.
The 102 prominent health companies in the U.S. that have signed the White House/HHS Health Sector Climate Pledge include organizations representing 837 hospitals, as well as leading health centers, suppliers, insurance companies, group purchasing organizations, pharmaceutical companies and more. Federal systems like the Indian Health Service, Veterans Health Administration, and Military Health System are working together to meet similar goals to those that private sector organizations have embraced. Combined, this means that more than 1,080 federal and private sector hospitals have made such commitments, together representing more than 15% of U.S. hospitals.
“HHS returns this year to COP27 to report great progress,” said ADM Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health at U.S. HHS “Through the efforts of the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity and several other HHS agencies, we have made significant strides in introducing resources and supports to help communities and care providers accelerate their work to reduce harmful emissions and increase climate resilience in the health sector.”
Along with tackling some of the biggest culprits of emissions in health care and other industries — power consumption, transportation, construction — OHSU has invested in more resilient facilities, installing green roofs and stormwater planters in new buildings, and upgrading many existing buildings to reduce the impact of increasingly intense rainfalls. And, as severe wildfires continue cause severely unhealthy air quality, OHSU has installed real-time air quality monitoring at several building air intakes, and has developed response plans for the building operations teams to adjust outside air ventilation rates and distribute portable air cleaners when needed.
“OHSU has been working on many of these initiatives dating back 15 years, but as climate change causes more serious health impacts, the effort has become more urgent,” said Greg Moawad, J.D., M.B.A, OHSU vice president for campus services. “The Biden administration’s pledge is an important step in getting other health care facilities up to speed and inspiring OHSU to do even more to meet these critically important emissions goals.”