Thank you, Elizabeth, and hello everyone.
As we enter the third year of COVID-19’s emergence, we have seen the toll this pandemic has taken on the global economy and on people’s livelihoods.
At the same time, we see with increasingly frequent a variety of life-threatening extreme weather events caused by climate change.
From hurricanes on our own shores, to droughts across Africa, to flooding and extreme heat in South Asia. These are all direct hits to our health and our communities worldwide.
The science is clear. The need for action is greater than ever. There is little time left to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory.
This is…the decisive decade for climate action.
The United States, under the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, is committed to stepping up and showing up to tackle the climate crisis. This includes major actions in the health care and public health sectors.
We have already heard from those who are hard at work greening their health care sectors.
In keeping with President Biden’s focus on reducing all major sources of greenhouse gases, we need to keep the momentum going to cut emissions output from the health care sector — in the United States and around the world.
Shortly, we will hear more about the work of my colleagues at USAID. This includes across the African continent to strengthen health care facilities’ resilience by increasing their supplies of reliable energy and telecommunications infrastructure.
I’m always inspired when I see what USAID and the U.S. Government is able to do when working with our partners around the world. This work is closely aligned with the goals and objectives of the president’s PREPARE Action Plan.
We are also joined today by a key U.S. partner in Senegal. Officials there are bolstering early warning systems for public health across Africa. This includes launching a new pan-African climate-health conference on this subject in 2023.
I’m happy to announce that we are also supporting a new international, trans-disciplinary “Collaborative Research Action” on climate-environment-health via the Belmont Forum. This is slated to launch early in the new year.
This effort dovetails with other essential work on building climate-based early warning systems.
I’ve been proud to lead a creative team building out early warning systems for dengue fever and other disease-carrying mosquitoes in Pacific Island states and in Central America. And warning systems for heat health in Africa and Latin America.
It’s hard to overstate the need for these early warning systems. We have seen an increase in flooding and drought around the world. And we have seen the resulting disaster impacts on human, animal, and plant health. It is all connected.
Early warning health systems are one critical tool to mobilize countries and resources before these natural disasters occur, saving countless numbers of lives.
Moreover, destruction of ecosystems can alter the range and timing of outbreaks such as malaria, dengue, Rift Valley fever, and the West Nile virus. These diseases already place an increased burden on health systems and the most vulnerable families in our communities.
With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that this is a decisive moment in our planet’s history. We must ensure our actions match our ambition by making early warning for all a reality for all now.
Before closing, I would be remiss to not underline the vital role of public health in making the case for climate change mitigation – both with regard to pollution, and to zoonotic spillover.
We know that the pollutants related to fossil fuels kill millions every year. This isn’t just a number, it’s lives that are prematurely cut short.
The bad news is the new science on air pollution is revealing more and more ill effects on cardiovascular cognitive, and reproductive health. It’s not just the risk of respiratory infections.
The good news is actions to address climate change, and the shift to cleaner sources of energy and transportation, can yield important co-benefits for health. These are benefits that we can realize right here, right now. Our actions must match our ambition.
In that same vein, another important focus for public health is addressing zoonotic spillover.
It is essential that we take a “One Health” approach to addressing this existential issue.
The One Health framework integrates a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach that sees the connection among the health of people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.
One key lesson from One Health is that an ounce of prevention is usually better than – and much cheaper than – a pound of cure.
In the case of zoonotic spillover, well-managed conservation efforts are an excellent example of primary prevention that we are actively supporting.
This is especially true when they: engage and address the needs of local and indigenous communities, curb illegal wildlife trafficking, and promote rigorous disease surveillance.
My team and I have been making this case through many of our travels around the world. And we will keep at it!
We will continue to work with partners in all sectors, and we always welcome new and innovative ways to move the ball forward.
If the global community is going to fight the climate and health issues of tomorrow, we must begin today, in our reach at the intersection of public health and the climate.
And we will meet this moment together. Thank you.