National Climate Assessment 5 unveiled

Nov. 14, 2023
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, is announced the release of the Fifth National Climate Assessment

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), is pleased to announce the release of the Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5). Led by USGCRP and its 14 member agencies, NCA5 draws on the expertise of nearly 500 authors and 250 contributors from every state, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. NCA5 is the most comprehensive analysis of the state of climate change in the United States, providing authoritative, decision-relevant information on how people across the country are experiencing climate change, the risks we face now and will face in the future, and actions underway to reduce carbon pollution and build resilience.

Climate change has profound negative effects on human health. NCA5 documents climate change’s severe health impacts on many populations and highlights the especially strong risk of climate-related harms to people with few material resources. This analysis is contained in the chapter devoted exclusively to health, in each regional chapter, and in many topical chapters.

Risks to health include higher rates of heat-related morbidity and mortality; increases in the geographic range of some infectious diseases; greater exposure to poor air quality; increases in some adverse pregnancy outcomes; higher rates of pulmonary, neurological, and cardiovascular diseases; and worsening mental health. While these risks have the potential to affect all those living in the U.S., they are already having disproportionate impacts on under-resourced and overburdened communities and individuals.

The NCA5 assesses the heightened vulnerability of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) communities and the increased risks faced by sexual and gender minorities and people with disabilities. NCA5 discusses adaptation options and other solutions through a social equity lens.  In addition to expanding and deepening our understanding of the linkages between social inequity and climate change risks, the NCA5 summarizes the growing evidence of the mental health and emotional impacts of climate change and offers new insights on health system risks and preparedness.

Climate-related hazards routinely disrupt health care delivery systems and threaten access to health care for many. The Missouri River and North Central flood in 2019 caused more than $10 billion in damage, blocked access to hospitals, and increased exposure to pollutants and infectious diseases across several states in the central U.S. Across the country, hospitals (9.3%), nursing homes (10.2%), and pharmacies (12.1%) are at risk of flooding. The NCA5 provides strong support for strategies now being implemented by the Department as a whole, especially those around enhancing health system resilience, especially for community health centers and safety net hospitals that serve low-income and disadvantaged communities. 

As NCA5 notes, each metric ton of CO2 reduced is estimated to bring about health benefits in the US that are valued between $8 to $430 (in 2022 dollars), mainly from avoided premature death. These health benefits outweigh costs for many Greenhouse Gas (GHG) mitigation measures.  Implementing timely, effective, and culturally appropriate adaptation measures, creating climate-resilient health systems, and preventing the release of carbon pollution protects human health and improves health equity. HHS is committed to supporting community-led preparedness and adaptation efforts and incorporating climate resilience into health equity activities. 

The whole-of-HHS approach to addressing this issue includes work by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (a part of the National Institutes of Health), Health Resources and Services Administration, the Administration for Children and Families, the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, and the Office on Climate Change and Health Equity in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. Below are some of the efforts underway from HHS offices and Operating Divisions who contributed to the NCA5 as they work to tackle this public health challenge.

HHS has the press release.