More than 70 medical and public health organizations issued a call to action on climate change yesterday, calling it the "greatest public health challenge of the 21st century."

The climate agenda urges government officials and policymakers to take on a series of priorities, including shifting away from coal and natural gas to renewable energy, supporting greenhouse gas emission reductions, and ensuring residents have access to safe and affordable drinking water.

Groups backing the agenda include the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Heart Association. Deborah Brown, chief mission officer at the American Lung Association, said making the changes outlined in the agenda will result in immediate health improvements.

"What is good for the climate is also good for our health," Brown said.

The agenda stated that children, the elderly and communities of color are especially vulnerable to the health effects of climate change. It cited a study by the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health that found emergency room visits for heat-related illnesses increased 133% between 1997 and 2006. Almost half of those patients were children and adolescents.

Other health impacts cited in the report include an increase in vector-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus; a rise in emergency room visits for lung conditions including asthma; and an increased wildfire risk.

"Following this policy road map will not just protect us from the worst health harms of climate change, but it will also lead us to a healthier and more equitable future," said Boris Lushniak, dean at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and former acting U.S. surgeon general.

The group's recommendations come in contrast to the Trump administration's new Affordable Clean Energy rule, which does little to reduce emissions. While EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has said power plant emissions will be 35% lower than in 2005, regulatory analysis shows the same 35% reduction by 2030 with or without the rule (Climatewire, June 20).

Despite the lack of urgency at the federal level, officials are reporting increased momentum on the state and local level. Kim Knowlton, senior scientist and deputy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council's Science Center, said part of the push is due to human experience over the past several years.

"We're living in the middle of climate impacts right now," she said. "They're here in our backyard."

Lushniak said the goal of the policy agenda is to make sure climate change is part of the public health conversation. He said by proposing solutions, the agenda is providing leaders at all levels with a meaningful path forward.

"There are solutions out there," Lushniak said. "We just need to be brave enough, bold enough and good enough to begin implementing them."

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news