Search Results for: Climate

One Year Later: Climate Action and the Clean Power Plan

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

2016 is on pace to be the hottest year ever recorded – by a significant margin – while 2015 currently holds the title, and 2014 before that. The facts and the trends are clear, and the threat is real.

Just yesterday, the latest climate indicators report confirmed that the impacts of climate change are getting stronger and stronger—average temperatures and sea levels keep rising, coastal flooding is getting worse, and Arctic sea ice is melting at alarming rates.

As President Obama has made very clear, we are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, and we may be the last generation who can do something about it.

That’s why in 2013, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, a bold and achievable plan that does everything in our power to combat climate change – from reducing emissions in nearly every sector of our economy, to increasing energy efficiency, to investing in renewable energy. And taking action here at home has allowed the United States to lead the world in getting a historic international agreement in Paris last year an agreement that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and limits global warming to two degrees Celsius.

One of the centerpieces in U.S. efforts to limit the effects of climate change and lead the world on this issue was reducing dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. One year ago today, I signed the Clean Power Plan, which set the first-ever national standards on reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants. EPA’s charge from the President was clear: to exercise our statutory authority to lay out steady, responsible steps to cut carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. And that’s what we did – by setting limits that reflected the growing momentum in the power sector to provide the American public with cleaner sources of energy.

The trend toward investment in renewables and energy efficiency is unfolding all around us:

  • Electricity generated from renewables is expected to grow by 9% in 2016 alone;
  • Utilities are investing $8 billion a year in energy efficiency, a four-fold increase from just eight years ago, and more companies than ever are leveraging EPA’s ENERGY STAR platform;
  • States are leading the way—29 states have adopted mandatory renewable portfolio standards, and an additional eight states have voluntary renewable goals.  Twenty-three states have mandatory energy efficiency provisions and 10 states have implemented market-based trading programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • The private sector is also stepping up.  Google, Apple, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, and Unilever – and other large U.S. companies are choosing to cut emissions and committing hundreds of billions of dollars to finance clean energy innovation.

It’s not an accident that the Clean Power Plan mirrors this trend. It is by design and it’s the result of our unprecedented outreach and engagement with states, utilities, energy regulators, environmental groups, communities, tribes and the public. Through this process we committed to listen and learn. We did. We committed to put the states in the driver’s seat. We did. We committed to cutting carbon pollution in a way that is in line with where the power sector is headed. We did. We committed to lead on climate action. And that’s exactly what we did.

Sometimes our efforts to protect public health and environment face opposition and/or litigation. The Clean Power Plan is no different and was stayed by the Supreme Court until the litigation is resolved. However, it will see its day in court and EPA remains fully confident in its legal merits. The Plan rests on a strong legal and technical foundation and is consistent with Supreme Court decisions, EPA’s statutory authority, and air pollution standards that have been put in place to tackle other pollution problems.  While the courts review the plan, and during the stay, no state is required to comply with it. However, many states and tribes have indicated they plan to move forward voluntarily to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. They have asked the agency to continue to develop tools to support them in their voluntary efforts. We are doing just that.

As we look to the future, let’s take stock of what we’ve done—we ’ve taken action to cut carbon pollution from power plants,extended tax credits for renewable energy, enabled the production of a new generation of clean cars and trucks, reduced methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, fostered a global climate change agreement, and so much more. These actions are rooted in science, codified in our laws, and broadly supported by our citizens. And they will make a difference! I’m excited for what the future holds. At EPA we remain ready to take advantage of smart and effective opportunities to safeguard public health and the environment for this generation and those that follow.

Mapping the Way to Climate Justice


About the Author: Jad Daley directs the Climate-Smart Cities Program at The Trust for Public Land. The program is advanced through deep partnership with cities, community groups, and others to advance multiple-benefit green infrastructure for climate action and climate justice. Learn more about Climate-Smart Cities Program in this video.


Heat risk became a reality for me after my wife was in a car accident. During her in-bed recovery, an extreme heat wave hit Washington, D.C., and the air conditioning unit in our tiny apartment gave out. As my wife lay in bed, unable to walk, the temperature steadily climbed in our apartment.

That night was truly terrifying. I ran to the store and bought a fan, which was just enough to cool her through the night. Within a day, we were able to find a technician to fix the A.C. unit but at a cost that I am still paying off today – a few years later. Regardless, we are fortunate to have this financial capacity.

Heat Island Map

This map highlights Urban Heat Island Hotspots (The Trust for Public Land).

Many Americans in low income communities are not so lucky. In such situations they are reliant on cooling centers or other means for protection. The recent climate health report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program highlighted extreme heat from climate change to be a primary threat to human health. Low income families without air conditioning, the elderly, and people with pre-existing health conditions are at greatest risk.

With a phenomenon known as the “Urban Heat Island Effect,” our cities make heat risk worse. This effect occurs when city pavement and other built materials absorb and re-radiate heat, which creates an oven-like effect. A report published by the EPA reveals that heat islands can raise local temperatures as much as five degrees Fahrenheit during the day and as much as 22 degrees at night.

Low income communities are further disadvantaged. Home design can dramatically impact indoor air temperature, and many low-income communities, rental homes, and public housing units are not well designed to lessen heat. For example, in some cases renters are unable to access enough power to run window air conditioning units.

In addition to building design, tree canopy and other green infrastructure are complementary and cost-effective natural solutions to reduce urban heat islands and protect people’s homes. Here is where climate justice comes in. In virtually every American city, tree cover strongly correlates with income—wealthy neighborhoods generally have significantly more tree cover.

How can we bring more protection to the neighborhoods that need it the most?

I believe a catalyst can be the power of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping to illustrate our green infrastructure deficits, like how insufficient tree canopy overlaps with our most vulnerable 2populations. The latest version of the EJSCREEN, the EPA’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool, includes this very information.

We also overlay other issues in these neighborhoods like the increased rate of flooding from extreme rainfall patterns resulting from climate change. After all, the problem that triggers urban heat islands — too much pavement, not enough greenspace — is the same land use pattern in many low income neighborhoods that leads to problems like basement flooding. If we see where these problems of heat islands and water management overlap, then we can develop green infrastructure solutions like green alleys that are designed to address both issues.

Mapping this threat is urgent because it is not a clearly assigned responsibility. Cities have water departments, transit departments, but not “urban heat island departments.” This risk is infrequently covered by the health department, but those agencies are not well positioned to advance strategies to protect key neighborhoods.

That is where GIS mapping comes in.1

My organization, The Trust for Public Land, maps heat islands, who is at risk in these areas, and how strategies like trees and other green infrastructure can help protect these neighborhoods.

If you can’t map climate justice, it is very unlikely that cities and their partners will make the focused investment to solve problems like urban heat islands and flash flooding. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, a map is worth a million. We have gotten immediate attention from city agencies and even mayors by using GIS to show where these climate justice issues exist, which is leading to unprecedented collaboration for climate justice by city agencies in cities such as Boston, New Orleans, and Chattanooga.

It is clear to me that finding the road to climate justice will take a very good map!


A “Cool” Way to Combat Climate Change under the Montreal Protocol

By Administrator Gina McCarthy and U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz

World climate leaders are meeting this week in Vienna for the next stage of international discussions about a global phase-down of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

This meeting should lay the foundation for a 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol – a hugely successful global agreement that has put Earth’s fragile ozone layer on track to full restoration. A 2016 amendment would leverage the same proven mechanisms that helped fix the “ozone hole” to address another serious risk to the planet – HFCs.

When scientists discovered the “ozone hole” in the 1980s, they uncovered a tangible health risk to people and the environment. The ozone layer of our upper atmosphere is a natural sunscreen that protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays. A massive and growing “hole” in the ozone layer threatened to drive up skin cancer rates, harm marine life, ruin crops and even degrade wood, plastic and other construction materials.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol mandated that countries phase out ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and similar chemicals used widely at the time for air conditioning and refrigeration. With 197 countries signing on, it was the first UN treaty to achieve universal ratification in the United Nations.

The results have been remarkable. The peak ozone hole has shrunk dramatically by more than four million square kilometers (about the size of India), with a full recovery expected by mid-century. And despite fears of economic disruption, the private sector adjusted cost-effectively.

However, to phase out CFCs, countries needed viable alternatives. Back in the 80s and 90s, more and more sectors began moving toward hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – chemicals that performed well as refrigerants and were significantly healthier for the ozone layer. But like the chemicals they replaced, HFCs are still damaging to our climate system. In fact, they are hundreds to thousands of times more powerful in warming the planet than carbon dioxide. Rapid growth in the use of HFCs threatens to undo much of our progress in reducing other carbon emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement.

It is time to amend the Montreal Protocol and phase down the use of HFCs in air conditioning and refrigeration – an urgent priority given the explosive actual and projected growth of air conditioning and refrigeration worldwide.

If we succeed, we could avoid up to 0.5 degree centigrade of warming by the end of the century by shifting towards other, less harmful alternatives. Avoiding that half-degree is crucial for limiting global temperature rise to below 2 degrees centigrade and avoiding the most severe impacts of climate change.

Last November in Dubai, negotiators agreed on a path forward to phase down HFCs by amending the Montreal Protocol in 2016. The amendment would mandate countries to replace HFCs, in stages, with climate-friendly alternatives such as hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) and hydrocarbons.

We have the technologies and chemicals to get this done, and are confident we can produce an HFC amendment that works.

U.S. leaders will take the results of a newly-published Department of Energy report, The Future of Air Conditioning for Buildings, to Vienna. It documents air conditioning’s explosive growth worldwide, especially in developing nations, which could lead to huge increases in the use of HFCs and emissions of greenhouse gases. The report finds that air conditioning energy consumption in countries not part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) could rise 4-1/2 times 2010 levels by 2050 – emitting more HFC greenhouse gases and undercutting the Paris Agreement. Substitute chemicals are available to avoid the use of HFCs and their global warming impacts.

Here are some key findings:

  • For air conditioning equipment categories that account for 95 percent of global residential sales and 35 percent of global commercial sales, climate-friendly refrigerants on the market have demonstrated comparable or superior performance and energy efficiency.
  • Also, climate-friendly refrigerants are already being developed and commercialized in all other major air conditioning equipment categories.
  • The air conditioning industry has steadily improved the energy efficiency of air conditioning units over time, including during the transition out of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances into HFCs.
  • Given that energy costs account for the majority of lifecycle air conditioning costs, energy efficiency improvements can more than offset increases in upfront purchase costs to consumers that could result from switching to HFC alternatives.

In short, the report demonstrates that the world is making rapid progress innovating toward a world without HFCs. In the near-term we can expect a wide array of air conditioning options that are climate-friendly, energy-efficient and affordable.

And also today, California is announcing that it will contribute half a million dollars toward a nearly $6 million effort launched last June to conduct critical research regarding the safe use of mildly flammable and flammable alternatives to HFCs. The U.S. made this announcement as part of the launch of the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Advanced Cooling Challenge, in order to accelerate updated safety standards to allow widespread use of these climate-friendly refrigerants in the United States and internationally.

As a part of the Challenge, DOE is working with the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to support the acceleration of updated safety standards to allow widespread use of climate-friendly refrigerants in the United States and internationally. In support of the Advanced Cooling Challenge, the DOE is contributing $3 million in funding, AHRI is contributing $1 million, and ASHRAE is contributing $1.2 million.

It’s time for the world to come together to address HFCs. And this week’s negotiations are an important step down that path.

Protecting Drinking Water by Becoming Climate Ready

By Joel Beauvais and Andrew Kricun, Executive Director for the Camden County (NJ) Municipal Utilities Authority

From Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Homer, Alaska, drinking water and wastewater utilities across the country are working with EPA to prepare for climate change. These forward-thinking utilities are following the science that shows climate change brings increased water shortages in some parts of the country, while other areas grapple with increased stormwater runoff, flooding, and sea level rise. These utilities and their surrounding communities know that these climate impacts will continue to exacerbate existing challenges to the country’s aging water infrastructure.

This is a public health challenge that affects both the quantity and quality of our drinking water and the integrity of the infrastructure we rely on to deliver and treat water.

To meet these challenges, EPA has developed a number of tools to help utilities understand climate science and adaptation options under the Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative. We have released two new tools that promote water utility preparedness and resilience—an adaptation information exchange which offers utilities a platform to share best practices and lessons learned, and an adaptation workshop planner helps users conduct successful climate change adaptation workshops, generating materials tailored to the needs of water sector stakeholders and their communities.

The Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative also highlights the good work water utilities like the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) are doing to ensure the long-term viability of their operations. Faced with a projected rise in river levels and an increase in the magnitude and frequency of intense precipitation and flooding, CCMUA has implemented a number of adaptation measures, using CRWU resources like the Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT) that will help guarantee the sustainability of its wastewater services.

By integrating water conservation and green infrastructure adaptive measures into its infrastructure investment plan, CCMUA is minimizing costs, reducing energy consumption, increasing the resiliency of its operations and protecting public health and the Delaware River from combined sewage flooding and overflows. Also, CCMUA is already saving nearly $600,000 per year in electricity costs and is expected to save close to $2 million per year in electricity costs when green energy projects are completed.

Other utilities are encouraged to follow in the footsteps of CCMUA by leveraging the tools and resources offered through the Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative. By fostering collaboration and greater awareness of a changing climate future, EPA and CCMUA are working to ensure that the water sector can make better informed investment decisions today.

To learn more about Camden’s use of EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities tools watch this video:

Gamify the Grid! New EPA game Generate! Helps Students Understand the Relationship between Climate Change and Energy Production

By Rose Keane

When you’re teaching someone, sometimes you never know what’s going to stick. Some people need to hear the information, others might need to read it, but chances are the best way to get someone to remember is to have them try it themselves.

EPA researcher Rebecca Dodder is helping teachers provide middle school and high school students with these kinds of opportunities through her new Generate! game, a board game that requires the player to consider the costs and benefits of the type of energy we use and impacts on air quality and climate.

Hands-on learning! Kids play the Generate! game during Earth Day festivities at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Hands-on learning! Kids play the Generate! game during Earth Day festivities at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Having students actually grapple with the realities of financial limitations, carbon emissions, and limited natural resources makes the lesson much more tangible and long lasting. I had the chance to see these connections being made when students came to EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C., to play the game during Earth Day festivities.

Here’s how it works.  In the first round, students select which sources of energy—for example, coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar or wind—that they would like to use given a finite amount of resources (in this case the number and types of energy pieces). Each energy source comes with its associated installation and maintenance costs, and the aim is to meet energy demands (filling up the full board space) while spending as little as possible.

The second round, however, made things a bit trickier. As with our energy sources in real life, there is a cost associated with the carbon emissions of each energy piece, with heavier costs for higher carbon-emitting sources like coal, and smaller or no carbon costs for the renewable energy sources. These costs refer to the idea that for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted, there are increased costs to communities from climate change. As students factored these numbers in, they realized their original plan was no longer sustainable and also way too expensive. You could practically hear the groans coming from each group’s table when the final tallies came in.

In the third round, students were offered pieces called “efficiencies,” which represent our behaviors, consumer choices, and energy efficient appliances. These pieces incur relatively small costs initially (for example, how much it would cost to replace your washer and dryer), but in the long run actually save the player money. “Think about it,” Dodder said to the students, “A lot of these big decisions are out of our control, like whether or not to build a nuclear power plant, for example. The thing about the smaller energy efficiency pieces is that’s all the stuff that we can change – it’s all in our control.”

Making climate change and its impacts tangible for younger generations can be extremely difficult, but games like Generate! make these kinds of activities fun, educational, and remind the students that their energy choices are in their hands. Educators can use this game to help their students recognize the relationships between energy usage and climate change, and encourage them to investigate their role in the carbon cycle further.

Dr. Dodder’s innovative approaches to educating the younger generation about science and her research contributions are being recognized today at a ceremony in Washington, DC where she will receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists.

Learn more about the Generate! game and download your copy here.

About the Author: Rose Keane is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Particulate Matter in a Changing World: Grants to Combat the Impacts of Climate Change

By Christina Burchette

There are certain things that are always changing: the weather, fashion trends, and technology (which iPhone are we on again?) are a few that come to mind. I can always count on the fact that these things won’t stay the same for long. But there are other things that I typically expect to remain the same: I expect to get hungry around lunchtime, I expect the bus to come every morning, and I expect to be able to breathe clean air. I don’t even think about the possibility of these things not happening—until something changes.

I definitely don’t think about air quality often or expect it to change. As long as I’m breathing and well, why would I? But in reality, air quality changes every day, and over time it may change a lot depending on how we treat our environment—and we need to be ready for these changes. This is why EPA recently awarded research grants to 12 universities to protect air quality from current and future challenges associated with climate change impacts.

Climate change is affecting air quality by influencing the type and amount of pollutants in the air. One type of pollutant present in our air is particulate matter, or PM. Long-term exposure to PM is linked to various health effects, including heart disease and lung function, and it doesn’t take a high concentration to affect our bodies. The more PM there is in the air, the more likely we are to be affected by health conditions.

landscape of Death Valley National Park with dust storm

A dust storm in Death Valley National Park

With EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants, university researchers are approaching the future of air quality from multiple angles with a focus on learning more about the PM-climate change relationship. They will study the impacts of increased wildfire activity that generates PM, often called soot, in the Rocky Mountains. They will look at the impacts that climate change and land use change have on the development of dust storms in the West and Southwest; and they will evaluate the best means of energy production in California where air quality is among the worst in the nation to reduce health care costs and lower levels of PM and greenhouse gases.

Over the next few decades, climate change will be the catalyst for various environmental trends, so finding a way to manage the impacts of these trends is essential to protecting our health. The work these grantees do will help to inform air quality managers and others to make sustainable and cost-effective decisions that keep our air quality at healthy levels and protect public health and the environment. That way, future generations will think of good air quality as something we can expect.

To learn more about these grants and read the abstracts, visit the Particulate Matter and Related Pollutants in a Changing World results page.

About the Author: Christina Burchette is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

EPA “Aim High” Success Stories on Climate and Air Quality

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

The public health case for climate action is compelling beyond words. The interagency Climate and Health Assessment released last month confirms that climate change endangers our health by affecting our food and water sources, the weather we experience, and the air we breathe. And we know that it will exacerbate certain health threats that already exist – while also creating new ones.

As we celebrate the recent signing of the historic Paris Agreement by countries around the world, there’s no better time to reflect on EPA’s many ongoing efforts to fight climate change and protect the air we breathe.

As part of our “Aim High” effort to highlight success stories from across the agency, I asked EPA staff to share examples of their work to protect public health by taking action on climate and air quality. Here are some highlights:

Child with pinwheel and blue sky in the background.Asthma Awareness Month: Asthma affects nearly 23 million Americans and disproportionally impacts low-income and minority communities. In the U.S., the direct medical costs of asthma and indirect costs, such as missed school and work days, amount to over $50 billion a year. Every May, EPA leads a National Asthma Awareness Campaign to increase public awareness about asthma risks, strengthen partnerships with community-based asthma organizations, and recognize exceptional asthma programs that are making a difference. Every year, this effort reaches 9,000 groups and individuals and provides them with the information and motivation to take action.

Group photo of employees from EPA and the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency .U.S EPA Africa Megacity Partnership: EPA’s environmental program in sub-Saharan Africa is focused on addressing the region’s growing urban and industrial pollution issues, including air quality and indoor air from cookstoves. The World Health Organization estimates that exposure to smoke from cooking causes 4.3 million premature deaths per year. EPA and the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency are working together under the Africa Megacities Partnership to develop an integrated air quality action plan for Accra. As a result of this partnership, Ghana EPA has already made significant progress using air quality monitoring and analysis and is serving as a model for other African cities with limited data, that want to take action.

Group of people by reservoir impacted by drought.Climate Change and Water Utilities: Between 1980 and 2015, the United States was impacted by more than 20 major droughts, each costing over one billion dollars. EPA staff in the Office of Water developed an easy-to-use guide to assist small- to medium-sized water utilities with responding to drought. The Drought Response and Recovery Guide for Water Utilities, release last month, includes best practices, implementation examples and customizable worksheets that help states and communities set short-term/emergency action plans, while also building long-term resilience to drought. EPA staff also developed an interactive drought case study map that tells the story of how seven diverse small- to medium-sized utilities in California, Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma were challenged by drought impacts and were able to successfully respond to and recover from drought.

Screenshot of EPA Region 1 Valley Indication Tool.Outreach on Risks from Wood Smoke: Exposure to particle pollution from wood smoke has been linked to a number of adverse health effects. Valleys in New England, where terrain and meteorology contribute to poor dispersion of pollutants, are especially vulnerable during winter air inversions. EPA Region 1 used publically available study results, databases and in-house Geographic Information System resources to develop “The Valley Identification Tool” that identifies populated valleys throughout New England that are at risk for wood-smoke pollution. Using this tool, EPA and state air quality managers and staff can better plan air-quality monitoring, outreach, and mitigation.

Biogas facilityBiogas to Energy: Water Resource Recovery Facilities (WRRFs) help recover water, nutrients, and energy from wastewater. EPA Region 9 is working with WRRFs to boost energy production through the addition of non-traditional organic wastes ranging from municipally collected food scraps to the byproducts of food processing facilities and agricultural production. As a result of these efforts, some of these facilities are becoming “energy positive,” producing enough energy to power the facility and transferring excess energy into the electricity grid for use by others. EPA, in collaboration with universities and industry, is also working to collect and share information on co-digestion practices and biogas management technologies. This work helps improve understanding of the air quality impacts of biogas-to-energy technologies and helps state and local governments, regulators, and developers identify cleaner, geographically-appropriate and cost-effective biogas management options.

The Deepening Story of How Climate Change Threatens Human Health

This is a joint blog from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, EPA, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Climate change poses risks to human health through many pathways, some more obvious than others. Rising greenhouse-gas concentrations, driven by human activities, result in increases in temperature, changes in precipitation, increases in the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. These climate-change impacts endanger our health by affecting our food and water sources, the air we breathe, the weather we experience, and our interactions with the built and natural environments. As the climate continues to change, the climate-related risks to human health will continue to grow.

Today, building on the Third National Climate Assessment issued in May 2014, the Administration released a new report summarizing the growing understanding of how climate change is directly and indirectly affecting human health.  The report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment, finds that “every American is vulnerable to the health impacts associated with climate change.” Drawing from decades of advances in the science of climate change and its influences on ecosystems and human society, the report strengthens our understanding of the significant threat that climate change poses to the health of all Americans and highlights factors that make some individuals and communities particularly vulnerable.

Among the new assessment’s specific findings is the projection that, under mid-range growth of global greenhouse-gas emissions, the combination of resulting summer temperatures in the United States and the known physiology of human sensitivity to heat would result in an increase of thousands to tens of thousands of premature heat-related deaths per year by the end of the century. Extreme heat poses a particular risk for children, the elderly, disadvantaged and socially isolated groups, and even people taking some prescription drugs that may impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature. The increase in heat-related deaths in most regions is expected to outweigh any reduction in cold-related deaths from warmer winters.

Changes in the climate also affect air quality. Human-induced climate change has already made conditions more favorable for ground-level ozone pollution – the key component of smog – in some regions of the United States. Higher temperatures increase the rate at which ozone forms, and associated changes in meteorological conditions can lead to stagnation events where large pockets of still air allow pollution levels to accumulate over a region. These effects are especially concerning when combined over urban areas. Unless offset by additional emission reductions of ozone-forming pollutants, these climate-driven increases in ozone will cause increases in premature deaths, hospital visits, lost school days, and acute respiratory symptoms.

Rising temperatures and hotter, drier summers are projected to increase the frequency and severity of large wildfires, especially in the western United States. Wildfires emit fine particles and ozone-forming pollutants that in turn increase the risk of premature death and adverse chronic and acute cardiovascular and respiratory health symptoms. Firefighters, in particular, are exposed to significantly higher levels of combustion products from fires.

A changing climate is also affecting the seasonality and geographic ranges of vector-borne diseases – such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus, which are transmitted, respectively, by  ticks and mosquitoes. Between 2001 and 2014, both the distribution and number of reported cases of Lyme disease increased in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. The assessment found that vector-borne pathogens of a number of kinds are likely to emerge or re-emerge due to the interactions of climatic factors with many non-climatic drivers, such as changing land-use patterns and human population density.

The assessment also highlights the disproportionate impacts of certain other climate-change-related health issues on certain communities. Indigenous people, for example, face decreasing access to traditional wild and cultivated foods, which have both health and cultural implications for these communities. And warming can exacerbate shellfish disease and make mercury more readily absorbed into fish tissue, posing a particular hazard to indigenous communities that consume above-average quantities of fish and shellfish.

The assessment highlights how climate change can exacerbate existing health risks, but also create health threats in new locations or new times. Some threats will occur over longer time periods, or at unprecedented times of the year. For example, increases in water temperature will alter the geographic range and seasonal window of growth for harmful bacteria and algae, exposing more people in more places. Changes in temperatures, precipitation, and extreme events such as flooding are also expected to increase risk of foodborne illnesses from pathogens like Salmonella and E Coli.

Impacts on people’s physical health can also affect their mental health. In addition, many people exposed to extreme weather events experience serious mental health consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. The mental health impacts of hurricanes, floods, and drought can be expected to increase as more people experience the stress—and often trauma—of these disasters.

Reducing the health risks from climate change is a top priority for President Obama and will be a key benefit of implementing his Climate Action Plan. The information about those risks contained within this new assessment should be a strong additional impetus for decision-makers across the Nation to support all three elements of the Plan—reducing domestic emissions of the carbon pollution that is driving global climate change, investing in measures to increase preparedness and resilience against the changes in climate that occur, and working with other nations around the world to encourage and help them to do the same.

John Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Gina McCarthy is the Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy is the U.S. Surgeon General.

Kathryn Sullivan is Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Taking Action on HFCs to Protect our Climate at Home and Abroad

By Gina McCarthy

This week, EPA took another important step in a series of recent actions to help reduce our country’s use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – a potent greenhouse gas. I signed a proposed rule under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program that will expand the list of climate-friendly HFC alternatives and phase out certain HFCs in favor of safer options that are already available. 

HFCs are predominantly used in air-conditioning and refrigeration and can be up to 10,000 times more damaging to our climate than carbon pollution. Left unchecked, growing HFC emissions would undo critical progress we’ve made to act on climate and protect the planet. 

That’s why cutting their use and emissions is a key part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The new proposed rule not only supports the President’s goals, it also recognizes the key role of innovative companies in bringing new HFC alternatives to the marketplace. 

This is an example of the important work we’re doing at home. But we’re also making tremendous progress with our international partners to fully address HFCs.

Just yesterday, in a joint announcement, President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping committed to working bilaterally and with other countries to achieve successful outcomes this year in related multilateral fora, including on an HFC amendment under the Montreal Protocol.

And I’m pleased to announce that I’m planning to lead the United States delegation at the Montreal Protocol’s Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties (ExMOP) this July in Vienna. I had the honor of leading the United States delegation to the Montreal Protocol’s 27th Meeting of the Parties in Dubai last November. At that time, the world took a significant step by agreeing to work together on a 2016 Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to reduce the production and consumption of harmful HFCs and achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions. 

Next week is the first preparatory session for the 2016 negotiations in Geneva. This will be the first opportunity since Dubai for countries to come together and make concrete progress on our 2016 phase down amendment. 

As we saw with the historic Paris Agreement, the world can unite in action when the health of our kids and shared home is at stake. The U.S. is ready to build on this spirit and follow through on our commitments to reduce HFCs at home and abroad.

We are making tremendous progress with our international partners. This July in Vienna, I look forward to making more progress on adopting an HFC amendment that will protect our climate for future generations.

EPA Partners Leading the Way On Climate Action

By Janet McCabe

Climate change is one of the most critical challenges of our time. We are committed to partnering with industry, communities, and government at all levels to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, and to prepare for the changes that are already underway.

Some important collaborations are our voluntary climate partnership programs. For decades, we have been partnering with the private sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote the use of cleaner energy sources, and improve energy efficiency efforts. These voluntary programs have achieved significant environmental benefits: in total, more than 19,000 organizations and millions of Americans have participated in our climate partnerships and, together in 2013 they prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use of more than 57 million homes.

Today, we launched a new voluntary program to reduce harmful methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and 41 companies have stepped up as founding partners. Our Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program builds on the success of our Natural Gas STAR Program and encourages partner companies to make company-wide commitments to cut emissions from sources within their operations by implementing a suite of best management practices.

We expect program participation to grow over time and are actively working to expand the options for participation by finalizing an additional Emissions Intensity Commitment option through the ONE Future Coalition. The ONE Future coalition is a group of companies from across the natural gas industry focused on increasing the efficiency of the natural gas supply chain.

To understand the potential of this program, let’s look at the successes of the Natural Gas STAR Program. When Gas STAR began in 1993, it promoted six best management practices that companies could take to reduce methane emissions; that list has increased to over 50 mitigation best practices. In 2015, a total of 103 oil and gas companies from across the natural gas value chain were U.S. Natural Gas STAR Partners. Since the Natural Gas STAR program started, our partners have collectively achieved over 1.2 trillion cubic feet of methane emission reductions, equivalent to the emissions savings associated with the use of over 1.4 million barrels of oil or reducing over 606 million metric tons of C02 equivalent emissions.

Our other voluntary programs are making similar strides. Since 1992, ENERGY STAR has helped consumers save $362 billion on their utility bills while significantly reducing their greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. Since the Green Power Partnership was introduced in 2001, more than 1,200 organizations have committed to using about 33 billion kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable green power each year. Through the Combined Heat and Power Partnership, more than 480 partners have installed nearly 6,800 megawatts of new combined heat and power since 2001. And in 2013 alone, our methane and fluorinated greenhouse gas program partners used our tools and resources to prevent emissions equal to the annual electricity use from more than 12 million homes in 2013.

Our country has been building momentum towards a cleaner energy economy for quite a while, and with the help of our voluntary programs, our partners have been helping to pave the way. To address the global challenge of climate change, we need to use all the tools in our toolbox, and voluntary programs are an important complement to regulatory action. Through the innovation and leadership of our partners, our voluntary climate partnership programs have proven to be an important lever for change.