Consortium Statement on the Fifth National Climate Assessment

On November 14, 2023, the White House unveiled the Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5), marking a significant milestone in the United States’ commitment to addressing climate change. NCA5 is the most comprehensive government report on climate change impacts, risks, and responses, serving as a robust scientific foundation for evidence-based decision-making nationwide. Mandated by the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990 and drawing on the expertise of climate scientists, ecologists, economists, and public health professionals, it informs policymakers, businesses, communities, and the general public about the risks and vulnerabilities associated with climate change.

Building on the 4th NCA, the 5th NCA report further documents the health harms that climate change is already visiting upon every community in America and, importantly, puts an increased emphasis on the opportunity to protect and advance health through concerted and equitable climate action. The report leads off with an Overview section that states how reducing emissions will be immediate good news for health and notes how that news plays out in many sections that follow:

“In addition to reducing risks to future generations, rapid emissions cuts are expected to have immediate health and economic benefits (Figure 1.1). At the national scale, the benefits of deep emissions cuts for current and future generations are expected to far outweigh the costs. {2.1, 2.3, 13.3, 14.5, 15.3, 32.4; Ch. 2, Introduction}”

During the release event, in addition to headline statements presented by the report’s authors, MSCCH steering committee member Dr. Neha Pathak had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion moderated by John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President, alongside environmental justice and youth advocates for climate action. The panel brought together diverse perspectives, emphasizing the urgency for swift climate action across the country with NCA5 as a scientific guide. 

Dr. Pathak states about her experience, “As the health professional voice, I addressed the profound impacts health professionals are witnessing from prolonged and more intense periods of extreme heat, longer allergy seasons, and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. I highlighted the role of health professionals to continue to educate ourselves and our patients about the evolving threats from climate change to prevent severe mental and physical health outcomes in those entrusted to our care. Additionally, I emphasized the power of lifestyle interventions for the prevention and management of chronic disease to provide high-quality health care with a low-carbon footprint as one means to reduce the health sector’s carbon emissions.”

Panelists also detailed the role of social iniquities, including the effects of structural racism, that are putting overburdened communities and people already unfairly harmed by environmental injustice at greater risk of illness and death.

The panel concluded by stating the commitment of a growing legion of health professionals to educate each other, the public, and policymakers about the urgency to address the rapidly evolving climate threats of severe mental and physical health outcomes in those entrusted to our care, to reduce the health sector’s carbon emissions through innovative interventions in the prevention and management of chronic disease, and to advocate for prioritizing health and equity-focused climate action.

From the chapters that focus on agriculture, air quality, water, and oceans to, of course, the chapter on health, the 5th NCA report presents the health challenge of reducing emissions as an urgent need to ensure our long-term survival. But it also presents reducing emissions and creating climate-resilient communities as an opportunity to immediately deliver health and health-economic benefits to everyone living today, including our most vulnerable.

The 5th NCA Report should be required reading for all decision-makers and policymakers. The takeaway message is that we now know that quickly reducing emissions will deliver on the promise of both a better, safer future and a healthier tomorrow.

More NCA5 resources:

NCA5 report website

Explore the NCA Atlas

Listen to the NCA5 Companion Podcast