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Health Care Leaders Ask Obama for Strong Climate Agreement to Protect Public Health

Climate Related Increase in Disease, Famine, Illness Could Overwhelm Health Sector

(Washington, DC) Health Leaders from across the United States have sent a letter to President Obama to call his attention to the impact of climate change on public health and the resulting challenges to the health care sector to meet increased demands for services.

  • Read or download the letter at the end of this page

Led by Health Care Without Harm, those signing the letter include the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association, and several other health organizations representing the interests of nearly three million health care professionals. Signatories also include seven major hospital systems with more than 160 affiliated hospitals (see list of signers below).

The letter asks the Obama Administration to take a strong position at the Copenhagen Climate Change talks to protect public health. It outlines a “Prescription for a Healthy Planet” that advocates four remedies to guide the talks: strengthen public health, commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, transition to clean energy, and finance global solutions to climate change. The health leaders ask for a meeting with President Obama to discuss the implications of climate change on public health and the health care sector’s ability to deliver health services to increasingly sick populations.

“The health care sector has an obligation to speak now to bring attention to the public health consequences of climate change,” stated Gary Cohen, President of Health Care Without Harm. “It is imperative that we have a strong treaty in Copenhagen to avert the worst impacts of climate change and what could become a global public health crisis of unprecedented proportions that could supersede our ability to provide care.”

The World Health Organization and the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program both predict that unmitigated climate change will likely lead to significant increases in illness and death related to extreme heat; the undermining of air quality standards; the spread of vector-borne and infectious diseases such as cholera, malaria, and dengue; the compromising of agricultural production and food security; an increase in extreme weather events, and floods and droughts with dramatic impacts on human health.

“There is a clear connection between climate change and human health,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), executive director of the American Public Health Association. “It affects the air we breathe, the food we eat and the spread of diseases that can make us sick. Action now will help us better understand, minimize and prepare for the health threats associated with a warming climate.”

“Every day, nurses see the adverse affects our deteriorating climate has on our patients and our communities, from exposure to chemicals, to increased incidents and severity of conditions such as asthma, allergies and auto-immune diseases, to the toll taken by floods, droughts and natural disasters. It is vital that nurses, who are the single largest group of health care professionals, take an active role in addressing the health impact of global climate changes and environmental hazards. This is why we are urging President Obama to take a stand at the upcoming Copenhagen talks,” added Rebecca M. Patton, MSN, RN, CNOR, president of the American Nurses Association.

“The health sector around the world is waking up to the reality that climate change is a major threat to public health, and that we must be part of the solution,” stated Joshua Karliner, International Team Coordinator for HCWH.

Health Care Without Harm is widely engaged around the world to help mobilize health leadership to become involved in climate change activities and to implement programs aimed at reducing the health sector’s carbon emissions.

About Health Care Without Harm: HCWH is an international coalition of more than 430 organizations in 52 countries, working to transform the health care industry worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. For more information on Health Care Without Harm, visit

About the HCWH Climate Campaign: HCWH’s climate campaign mobilizes the health care sector to advocate for strong climate mitigation and adaptation policies at the local, national and global levels. HCWH is committed to assisting the health care sector to reduce its climate footprint and support efforts to mitigate the climate footprint of the health care sector. The campaign provides education, resources and tools to help the health care sector improve energy efficiency and transition away from fossil fuels toward clean, renewable energy technologies. Health Care Without Harm also promotes local sustainable food systems, and advocates for sustainable water consumption, better waste management, and climate-friendly procurement. For more information on HCWH’s climate change program, visit

Signatories of the Letter to President Obama

  • Affinity Health System: Daniel Neufelder, CEO
  • American Nurses Association: Marla Weston, PhD, RN, CEO
  • American Public Health Association: Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (Emeritus), Executive Director
  • Ascension Health: Anthony R. Tersigni, President/CEO
  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: Paul Levy, CEO
  • Bon Secours Health System, Inc.: Richard J. Statuto, CEO/President
  • Catholic Healthcare West: Lloyd H. Dean, President and CEO
  • Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology at Hackensack University Medical Center: Deirdre Imus, President and Founder
  • Health Care Improvement Foundation: Kate J. Flynn, FACHE, President
  • Health Care Without Harm: Anna Gilmore Hall, Executive Director; Gary Cohen, President
  • Metro Health Hospital: Michael D. Faas, President and CEO
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility: Peter Wilk, MD, Executive Director
  • Practice Greenhealth: Robert Jarboe, Executive Director
  • Public Health Institute: Mary A. Pittman, DrPH, President and CEO
  • The Center for Health Design: Debra Levin, EDAC President and CEO

Contacts: Josh Karliner, 218.525.7806; | Azibuike Akaba, 202.553.9049;

Download the letter


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