More than 100 healthcare organizations have signed on to climate resilience pledge, HHS says

More than 100 health systems, payers, drug manufacturers, associations and other industry organizations have signed on to the Biden administration’s greenhouse gas and climate resilience pledge, according to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announcement timed with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27).

“The organizations that signed the pledge are demonstrating to the health sector that climate smart investments are not only possible but are becoming standard for the industry,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

HHS joined the United Nations' health program last year, which included commitments to supporting climate resilience and reduced carbon emissions.

On Earth Day this year, the department partnered with the White House to launch its Health Sector Climate Pledge, a voluntary commitment that includes a 50% greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.

Signees of the pledge are also committed to designating an executive-level lead for emission reduction by 2023, releasing a climate resilience plan for continuous operations by the end of 2023 and conducting an inventory of supply chain emissions by the end of 2024.

HHS said 102 healthcare organizations have signed onto the pledge. The group includes entities representing 837 hospitals, HHS said, though adding federal systems like the Veterans Health Administration bumps that tally to over 1,080 hospitals, more than 15% of the country’s total hospitals.

Standout names on the full list of signatories included Kaiser Permanente, Elevance Health, DaVita, CommonSpirit Health, Pfizer, University of California Health, the Joint Commission and the National Academy of Medicine.

“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,” Rachel Levine, M.D., assistant secretary for health at HHS, said in a statement. “We see great promise in the combined force of international and domestic action to combat the global health threat of climate change.”

HHS’ announcement also noted a new joint plan with England’s National Health Service to devise a proposal addressing healthcare supply chain emissions.

The healthcare sector represents nearly a fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product and was responsible for 10% of the nation’s smog formation, 12% of acid rain, 9% of criteria air pollutants, 1% of stratospheric ozone depletion and 1% to 2% of carcinogenic and noncarcinogenic air toxins, according to 2016 study data cited in a recent congressional report.

U.S. greenhouse gas emission increases between 2010 and 2018 were estimated to result in the loss of 388,000 disability-adjusted life years, per the same report, while provider groups faced an average 4.2 climate change-fueled extreme weather events within the past five years.

Environmental resiliency efforts among provider organizations solicited by Congress for its report broadly differed, with about half saying they used at least one tool to measure emissions while fewer said they would be in a good position to meet the White House’s 50% greenhouse gas emission reduction goal for 2030.