UN Climate Reports on Climate Change Impacts on Vulnerable Communities

Editor’s Note: Julia Dempsey is a Program Associate in NACHC’s Public Health Priorities Division. NACHC staff Jessica Hinshaw and Ben Money also contributed to this article.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this month released a report outlining the current threats and expected losses from climate change and where transformational changes are needed.

“As greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to increase, widespread changes in global weather patterns are impacting vulnerable communities, which have historically contributed the least to rising GHG emissions.”

The report says scientists have estimated that the Earth will exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century, and every increment of climate change will intensify and produce extreme damage to ecosystems and human health.

Developing countries, people with limited income, and low-lying island nations are expected to be hit the hardest, even though they have contributed the least to the planet’s climate change problem. As the climate change problem persists, not even the wealthiest of countries will be immune to the effects.

“Near-term climate action is urgent to reduce the projected losses and would deliver many benefits, such as better air quality and health.”

The report places an emphasis on climate-resilient developments that integrate adaptation and mitigation to advance sustainability for all. The report also highlights the importance of prioritizing equity, climate justice, and enhancing support in populations with the highest vulnerability to climate change.

Role of Community Health Centers

Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. § 254b) subsection (b)(2) is the section of a federal statute that authorizes health centers to provide additional services for adequate support of primary health, including environmental health services, including– (i) the detection and alleviation of unhealthful conditions associated with–(I) water supply, (II) chemical and pesticide exposures, (III) air quality, and (IV) exposure to lead.

As stated in the UN Climate Report, climate-driven weather events such as extreme heat, flooding, poor air quality, and storms will cause adverse health outcomes in vulnerable populations, especially those that have been systemically marginalized such as through redlining policies. Community health centers have a long history of striving for health equity, with many taking action to provide environmental health services to populations most affected by these climate-driven weather events and removing barriers for patients to receive whole-person care.

Practical and Actionable Responses for Community Health Centers

A growing number of health centers including Pueblo Community Health Center in Colorado, San Benito Health Foundation in California, and Centro de Salud Familiar in Puerto Rico have installed solar microgrids (solar panels and battery backups) on their sites to remain resilient during power outages or grid disturbances. Having reliable power is crucial to both health centers and patients.

CresentCare in New Orleans, Louisiana is using their solar microgrid to transform their center into a “resilience hub”, partnering with local CBOs in preparing and pre-positioning resources for climate fueled disasters that frequently strike their area.

Through resources from Direct Relief, NACHC is working to expand resilient health centers across the country.  NACHC has partnered with Capital Link and Collective Energy to inform, assess, finance and install solar microgrids.  Recognizing the multiple competing priorities faced by health centers, this “CHARGE Partnership (Community Health Access to Reliable Green Energy)” will provide turn-key project management for these capital initiatives.

Take Action, Today!

Every health center faces different threats and challenges when it comes to climate change. Each health center will also have different priorities and abilities to act. To meet you where you are, NACHC is working to create a cache of resources to help health centers build resilience for climate change. NACHC is partnering with the Harvard C-Change Program, AmeriCares, and Migrant Clinicians Network to train and disseminate the Climate Resilience for Frontline Clinics Toolkit with resources for clinicians, patients and administrators to prepare for the most common climate events. We are also working with ecoAmerica to customize the Climate for Health Ambassador training to health center audiences. The customized training should be available in the coming months!

Are you just beginning to think about these issues and want to start the conversation? Do you want to learn more about how climate change impacts health? Are you ready to consider installing resilient energy systems at your facilities? Please check out our resources and contact our team. Every action matters because health center patients are the most inequitably affected by climate change.

  1. NACHC Environmental Health Webpage
  2. CHARGE Partnership Website
  3. Recent webinars
  4. Contact the Environmental Health Team for more information at:  jdempsey@nachc.org and jhinshaw@nachc.org

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