By Surili Sutaria Patel, Deputy Director, Center for Public Health Policy, American Public Health Association
Climate change presents increasingly serious, complex challenges to the public’s health. In response to these challenges, the American Public Health Association’s (APHA’s) Center for Climate, Health and Equity inspires action on climate and health, advances equitable climate policies, and galvanizes the public health field to address climate change.
APHA maintains that the public health field is on the front lines of the climate change crisis, addressing and reducing climate health effects. APHA’s Center will offer support, resources, and expertise. APHA will use the Center to advance health equity and environmental justice while promoting climate solutions through (1) enabling an environment and culture in which “climate healthy” and equitable choices are easy choices; (2) promoting policies focused on environmental justice and health equity designed to address climate change adaptation and mitigation; and (3) supporting science that clarifies the health impacts of climate change, as well as offers solutions and policies to guide decision makers.
In late 2017, APHA set out to identify the needs of the public health community to integrate climate change as a health issue. Building on the momentum of the 2017 Year of Climate Change and Health, APHA engaged members, affiliate representatives, public leaders, funders, and health professionals to answer two questions:
- What does the field of public health need to advance the climate change and health discourse?
- What can APHA offer to public health practitioners and partners to help them take action?
The needs assessment revealed three themes as critical action areas to advance programming and policy at the intersection of climate change and public health. These themes represent opportunities for APHA’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity to organize efforts and create resources that directly respond to needs:
- Build capacity for membership action through research, education, and targeted communications;
- Strengthen APHA’s leadership as a resource clearinghouse and messenger for member sections and the public on climate change as a public health issue; and
- Collaborate across sectors and sections to promote community climate resilience and long-term, sustainable system transformation.
APHA supports a coordinated approach to boosting climate change expertise among public health practitioners and will continue to build capacity within the Center for Climate, Health and Equity. Research and education that is rooted in equity and justice will have the greatest impacts on shifting the national discourse on climate change.
Plans are in motion to develop training materials, host educational webinars, and draft studies at the intersection of climate change and public health. A full-time Climate Change Program Manager, Rachel McMonagle, joined APHA this past March to coordinate resources and offer more direct support to members on climate activities.
Additionally, the Center will convene a steering committee and advisory board to drive APHA’s programming around climate change and health equity. These groups will be made up of members and affiliates, as well as partners in diverse sectors that engage public health practices and policies in their work. Any opportunities for local health department engagement will be shared in the future.
APHA’s vision for America is that climate change is treated as a national priority with broad political and social support. In APHA’s vision, the nation will address climate change in ways that improve public health and health equity, creating the healthiest nation in one generation. This transformation starts at home with supporting and cultivating an active public health workforce.