Climate Change, Health, and Equity: A Guide for Local Health Departments

Posted on: 12/16/2020 - Updated on: 2/25/2021

Posted by

Rachel Gregg



The health of Americans faces two great challenges: climate change and health inequities. Climate change affects the health of every community. Beyond its direct health impacts (such as heat illness), climate change increases food insecurity, worsens air pollution, reduces our access to clean water, displaces people from their homes, and causes widespread social and economic disruption. Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, said that climate change “threatens our fragile existence on this planet.”

Health inequities and climate change are deeply interconnected. Climate change acts as a threat multiplier, exacerbating poverty, environmental degradation, and political instability. Like health inequities, climate change is a problem rooted in the structures, systems, and values of our society and economy. Eliminating health inequities and resolving climate change requires an intersectoral and transformational approach. Many climate solutions offer huge health benefits. In fact, many strategies to reduce climate pollution are the same strategies that we must implement to reduce health inequities.

Climate change is a public health emergency: The health and well-being—and possibly the very survival—of the communities we serve is in danger, as witnessed by the increased occurrence of disastrous wildfires and extreme weather events. Our actions now (or lack thereof) will affect the magnitude of climate impacts and the extent to which our communities thrive in the face of climate change and recover in the aftermath of climate-related disasters.

Climate change is a global phenomenon, but people and communities at the local and regional level experience its consequences. Local public health departments have a critical role in addressing this urgent threat, just as they have done in facing other emergent threats to the health of the public, and a responsibility to expand public health practice to address climate change. We can do what public health has done for so many other threats: educate and inform, develop and use the scientific evidence, partner with community organizations and sister agencies, advocate for policy and systems change, and take on the powerful interests that put profits over people and impede the transformational change needed to achieve equity and a healthy climate for all. We hope this Guide will be useful to every local health department striving to address climate change, health, and equity as joined and urgent issues


Sector Addressed