GAO Report: More Work Needed to Protect Communities From the Wide-Ranging Impacts of Climate Change on Public Health

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich joined his Senate colleagues in releasing a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluating the ability of federal agencies to address the public health risks of climate change. The report found that while federal agencies are planning for and taking steps to address the public health risks of climate change, more work must be done to communicate the health risks of climate change to communities across the nation, and to bolster research to further understand how climate change will impact health.

“This report shows that we must strengthen our efforts to ensure communities in New Mexico and across the country understand the devastating impacts climate change poses to public health. Future generations will bear the consequences of extreme weather changes and public health risks if we don’t work together on pragmatic solutions to address this very real crisis. I am committed to tackling the threat of climate change head on,” said Senator Martin Heinrich.

Research shows environmental impacts of climate change, including extreme heat waves, rising sea levels, flooding, droughts, intense hurricanes, and a reduction in air quality, have direct and indirect impacts on the health of people around the world. Between 2030 and 2050, the World Health Organization estimates that the impacts of climate change are expected to cause 250,000 additional deaths worldwide per year.

Key findings from the GAO report:

  • Federal agencies are planning or taking action to alleviate several major challenges faced by State and local officials in addressing the public health risks of climate change.
  • Officials’ difficulties communicating the public health risks of climate change to the general population would greatly benefit from additional federal guidance. Neither HHS nor CDC currently provides this enhanced guidance, though HHS is working on resources to help State and local officials with communication strategies. Finalizing this guidance is the most helpful action the federal government can take to assist State and local public health officials in their efforts.
  • Additional research being planned and undertaken by several agencies will further bolster state and local health departments’ ability to effectively address climate change-related health risks.
  • However some major challenges State and local officials face, like insufficient local data on health outcomes, cannot be addressed by federal agencies. State and local governments will have to cope with these challenges by improving their local public health activities.