The science is clear that human activity is linked to climate change, and the Obama Administration recognizes the urgent need to take action. That’s why the United States recently announced a strong national target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025, and it’s why we are also leading global efforts to improve resilience to climate impacts. We are taking these ambitious actions because we know that climate change is not only linked to devastating weather events like drought, flooding, and wildfires, but also to debilitating and costly health conditions like asthma and heart disease.
Taking action on climate change is such an important part of the conversation as we observe National Public Health Week across the country. Many of our cities already struggle to protect vulnerable populations from the effects of heat waves; and with climate change, these periods of increased temperatures are expected to become longer and more severe. Heavy precipitation events are also projected to increase. In some regions, these storms may contribute to severe flooding, the second deadliest of all weather-related hazards in the U.S. Warming temperatures can also increase the spread of diseases borne by vectors, like fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes.
Climate change is also linked to air pollution, which contributes to seven million premature deaths per year, not to mention a number of respiratory diseases and other illnesses. Many of the processes that create local air pollution -- from intensive fossil fuel use for electricity production, to a vast worldwide expansion of motorized transport, to the large-scale burning of forests and agricultural lands -- are also driving climate change.
The good news is that by acting on climate change, we can reduce air pollution and prevent many serious health problems. The U.S. is leading efforts at home to combat this threat, including through the President’s Climate Action Plan. In addition to historic fuel economy standards, a new national methane strategy, and many other initiatives, the President has also proposed the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever carbon pollution limits for existing power plants. The proposed Clean Power Plan has public health benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion per year in 2030, far outweighing its costs of $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion.
The President and Secretary Kerry are also leading efforts internationally to combat climate change, and are working to help deliver a strong agreement in Paris at COP21 in December 2015. The Paris meeting provides a historic opportunity to establish, for the first time, an ambitious, durable, climate regime that applies to all countries, and sends a potent signal to the markets and civil society that there is no going back on tackling climate change.
In addition to all of the work underway to reach a new agreement, the U.S. has made major commitments to efforts like the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, which helps countries implement strategies to reduce emissions of short-term pollutants such as soot and methane. These pollutants both add substantially to global warming and damage public health.
With so much at stake for the health of our families and the safety of our planet, our mission is clear. From world leaders and large corporations to local communities and individuals, we each have a role to play in protecting public health and the environment in which we live. The actions being taken at all levels to combat climate change today will support a safer, healthier planet for future generations.
About the Author: Todd Stern is the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change.