A Call for the United States to Rejoin the Paris Agreement

by Ira Dreyfuss, Public Affairs Advisor
Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health
December 2020

Paris and Climate Ambition in 2021

With a new year comes new opportunities. 2021 must be the year that the United States recommits to an opportunity that carries the potential to head off the world’s accelerating climate calamity, with all of its tragic health consequences. As a coalition of leading health care organizations, the Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health calls urgently for America to rejoin the international community in the Paris Agreement.

Member nations in the Paris Agreement pledged to work together to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less – and preferably 1.5˚. This is an ambitious but achievable goal. All nations must do their part. Our nation, a superpower with the world’s largest economy pumping out astounding amounts of carbon pollution, has a clear responsibility to lead.

Sadly, our federal government abdicated this responsibility when the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the accord. That was 2020, however, which is ending, and the incoming Biden administration has a goal to rejoin the accord quickly. We can enter 2021 with the possibility to set ourselves anew on the road to progress.

The Accord Must Become a Living Reality

We must act on the understanding that the accord is, in a crucial sense, a vision statement for a better future. It will not be enough to say we support rejoining the Paris Agreement and then walk away with a feeling of accomplishment. Globally and locally, we must do the work needed to transform the goals of the accord into a living reality. We must, phase out the carbon-based fuels we are burning for energy because this is heating the Earth and polluting the air. Phasing in clean energy will safeguard the health of the planet and our patients. Much greater and more rapid progress is needed.

We Must Protect People

Moving forward in line with the Paris Agreement is a concern of health care professionals, who see already how the climate crisis impairs the health of their patients. Among the health harms:

  • Increasingly common and severe heat waves, floods and droughts.
  • Worsening air pollution from fires, pollen and ozone, exacerbating breathing problems and heart disease.
  • More prevalent vector-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease, carried by ticks, and Zika or West Nile disease, carried by mosquitoes.

The latest Lancet Countdown, a comprehensive annual update on the danger that the climate crisis presents to our health, reminds us that we can achieve better health and more robust lives by addressing the sources of climate change. Heart disease, stroke, and chronic lung disease will be less of a burden. More infants will be born full term and healthy and more elders will avoid cognitive decline. Medical research has proven that the fumes and particles emitted from fossil fuel burning are significant contributors to these problems.

Protecting people must be a priority. Without action, we continue with more elders who succumb to severe heat, more people who lose their homes or their lives to wildfires and, from the economic point of view, more workers whose labor becomes less productive.

We recognize that the harms created by the climate crisis are worse among those less able to protect their health, including people of color, the economically disadvantaged, women and girls, the elderly and people with disabilities. It will not be enough to work for them as we combat the climate crisis. We must hear their voices and work with them.

This Effort Needs Everyone

There are different pathways to improvement in line with the accords; achieving change requires the work of all.

  • We can highlight the need for investment in climate and health, ensuring that the knowledge of health care professionals guides members of the public as well as policymakers in legislatures and other forums.
  • We can build climate solutions into health care from the level of the entire system to the individual practice and lives of patients.
  • We can raise our voices to ensure that the solutions benefit all.

While supporting America’s re-entry into the Paris Agreement, we can prepare for the ambitious action needed to make the re-entry meaningful. Our steps on the ground, each in our own areas, can demonstrate to the world what American leadership looks like and provide an example of methods to achieve the goals.

We must do this and do it now! Fatalities are climbing each year. The climate crisis is a public health emergency. Lives are on the line.


– Health Professionals –
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