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

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) released 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.

“We have a moral obligation to tackle the devastating impacts of climate change on families and communities nationwide, and protecting public health must be a key part of this effort,” said Senator Patty Murray.This report makes clear that while agencies are taking steps to respond to public health challenges posed by climate change, we should do more to strengthen understanding of the health risks of climate change, so that prevention and protection efforts can be more effective. I look forward to working to build on the findings in this report, and urge my Republican colleagues to recognize the threat climate change poses and work with Democrats to leave a healthier planet behind for our children and grandchildren.”

"This GAO report confirms that while steps are being taken, more needs to be done to ensure the American people are aware of the public health risks associated with unchecked climate change.  Climate change is happening now and we must take immediate action to address this threat,” said Senator Barbara Boxer.

“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.

"As the human impacts of climate change come sharply into focus, it is clear that it poses a real risk to the health of our citizens. While we continue to work to transition to a clean energy economy, it is vital that our communities are given the proper resources and access to information that they need to keep our families safe. It is my hope and expectation that the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will continue to develop and implement a comprehensive communication strategy to keep our states, municipalities, and citizens informed of critical health information,” said Senator Bob Menendez.

 “The effects of climate change are already being felt in Hawaii and across the country.  Extreme weather not only threatens the health of our environment, it threatens the health of every American.  This new report underscores the challenges federal agencies face when combating the growing public health risks posed by climate change.  While the GAO report makes recommendations on how we can prepare for current and anticipated health effects caused by climate change, we must also do more to mitigate its impacts and lead the world in helping solve this great challenge,” said Senator Brian Schatz.

“Climate change poses a significant threat to our environment, economy and public health in New Hampshire and around the country,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “It’s obvious from this report that we must increase coordination and communication to better understand, respond to, and educate Americans about the very real public health threats of climate change. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to put in place policies that address climate change and mitigate its damaging effects.”

"Climate change is not just a global issue, it is a local one with real consequences for public health, and this report shines a light on one of the serious gaps in our efforts to prepare. As the agency charged with protecting the public's health and safety, the CDC must have enough resources and clear direction to gather data and plan for how to communicate about climate change, including impacts of higher temperatures, natural disasters, and infectious diseases. Global warming is one of the greatest environmental, national security, energy and public health challenges we face. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I've fought against measures that would hold back our efforts to prepare to meet those challenges, and I will keep fighting for the resources we need to develop smart, forward-thinking plans and solutions to address climate change," said Senator Tom Udall.

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.


Read the full report here.