A reflection on climate, health, and equity in the new Biden-Harris administration

Photo courtesy of Pexels/Pixabay.

Friday, April 30th marked President Biden’s 100th day in office, a key benchmark for reflecting on a new administration’s accomplishments. The president came into office with four priorities — COVID-19, climate, race, and the economy — all determinants of health. In his first 100 days in office, President Biden has prioritized climate solutions and environmental justice that will benefit health care systems, along with their employees, patients, and communities by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving the resilience of our buildings and supply chains, and reducing health inequities.

Since day one, President Biden has taken important steps to tackle the twin crises of COVID-19 and climate change, reestablishing the United States as an international climate leader with a strong commitment to domestic and global climate action. The Biden-Harris administration has already taken unprecedented action to address the climate crisis and is instituting a whole-of-government approach, centered on health and equity. These actions demonstrate the administration’s understanding that the climate crisis is a health crisis and health care must be part of the solution.

On the first day of his presidency, President Biden issued executive actions to undo a number of Trump administration rollbacks of environmental health protections and rejoined both the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization. The following week, the president released a second package of executive orders targeting climate change, health, and environmental justice. This included directing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to set up a new office of Climate Change and Health Equity, establish an Interagency Working Group to Decrease Risk of Climate Change to Children, the Elderly, People with Disabilities, and the Vulnerable, and establish a biennial Health Care System Readiness Advisory Council.

On March 6, President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which in addition to many important COVID-19 relief and public health protection measures, included funding for low-income home energy assistance and environmental justice grants. The president then went on to release the American Jobs Plan, outlining investments of more than $2 trillion over the next eight years in essential infrastructure and clean energy investments that can benefit health care systems while ensuring cleaner, more resilient, and more equitable communities. The bill targets 40% of these investments toward disadvantaged communities.

On Earth Day, the president announced the new United States’ Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Climate Agreement, committing to reduce carbon pollution 50–52% by 2030, putting the United States firmly on the path to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. The announcement kicked off the U.S.-hosted Global Leaders Summit on Climate where 40 world leaders met to discuss the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help vulnerable countries.

For an overview on the Biden administration’s first 100 days, watch our U.S. Climate and Health director Jessica Wolff in a special episode of Let’s Talk Climate hosted by ecoAmerica. Jessica and Kineta Sealey from the Black Women’s Health Imperative discuss how the administration has performed on climate, health, and equity and what to expect going forward.

Before President Biden took office, Health Care Without Harm drafted a set of priority recommendations for the Biden-Harris administration. They outline some of the key actions the new administration, as well as Congress, can take immediately to build a more resilient health care system, mitigate the carbon footprint of health care operations, contribute to a sustainable and just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensure all communities are resilient to the impacts of climate change.

The linchpin to ensuring a climate-smart health care sector is the full engagement and accountability of HHS in building a resilient, low-carbon health care system. We welcome the appointment of climate champion Secretary Xavier Becerra to the helm of this important agency to lead the way.

As we move past the first 100 days, much still needs to be accomplished, with promises delivered upon, and we will continue to push for and work with the administration and Congress to implement climate-smart health care policies. We feel optimistic that with the current federal leadership we are finally pursuing a pathway to accelerate our transition to a just, clean energy economy that prevents the worst impacts of climate change while helping the health care sector decarbonize, become more climate-resilient, and protect the most vulnerable populations that they serve.