HHS calls on hospitals to make voluntary pledge to cut emissions to zero by 2050

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is pressing for hospitals, health systems and other industry stakeholders to take a voluntary pledge to reduce emissions by half by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050.

HHS said in an announcement Friday that climate change can exacerbate existing healthcare disparities.

The agency is asking for stakeholders to also pledge to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to publicly report their progress. 

“The healthcare sector contributes 8.5% of total U.S. emissions, so they have a big role to play,” National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the voluntary pledge applies not only to health systems but also to suppliers and drug manufacturers. 

“Every stakeholder group in America must step up, and collaboration across the public and private sector is key,” Becerra said in a statement. “Reducing emissions and fighting climate change’s catastrophic and chronic impact on vulnerable people is key to building a healthier nation.”

In addition to the zero emission carbon pledges, HHS is also asking stakeholders to publicly report their progress and complete an inventory of supply chain emissions. Any interested stakeholders must develop climate resiliency plans and designate an executive leader for the efforts.

The press for a voluntary pledge comes less than a year after HHS created the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity back in August 2021. The office had planned to roll out goals for emission levels at hospitals.

Becerra said last August that he wasn’t opposed to a mandatory fine for hospitals that don’t cut emissions, saying the “federal government has the authority to do so.”

President Joe Biden has made it a goal to reduce emissions throughout the entire economy by 2030. 

The initial response from the hospital industry was promising. 

“The hospital field is committed to doing our part to reduce emissions and promote environmental stewardship, but we know we cannot do this alone,” said Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, in a statement. “We urge the Biden administration to pursue a collaborative approach with input from the entire healthcare field, regulators and experts as it identifies which tools and resources will be most helpful moving forward.”

Some hospitals and health systems have made moves to combat climate change in recent years, including efforts to clamp down on unnecessary waste and investing in renewable energy.