Climate and Health in Oregon: 2020 Report

The 2020 report “Climate Change and Health in Oregon,” issued by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), describes the many health risks caused or exacerbated by climate change impacts that can harm the health of  Oregon’s population, with special attention given to frontline populations. The report discusses risks to physical and mental health and covers cross-cutting risks such as economic impacts and displacement, as well as climate hazards such as heat, floods, fire, and disease. It also summarizes state policy actions on climate and health risks. The report complements another OHA report issued in 2020, “Healthier Together Oregon.”

The report notes that in 2020, Oregon had its worst year for wildfires and in recent years has had its hottest years on record, as well as reduced snowpack, floods and landslides, and contamination of a major drinking water system.

A key focus of the 2020 report is how human health risks from climate change are not borne equitably across populations. Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, African-Americans, and Latinos in Oregon have relatively higher rates of poverty. As a result of systemic racism, many African-Americans live in urban neighborhoods with more pavement and fewer trees, and thus, face higher health risks than those faced by more privileged communities. Lower income communities as well as communities of color, tribes, and under-invested rural areas lack in the “social determinants of health” and possess limited resources to prepare for and adapt to extreme weather and climate events and climate change. The report pledges to eliminate such inequities by 2030.

Most of the report is devoted to a review of climate and health risks with particular attention paid to risks faced by frontline communities. The report discusses cross-cutting risks such as economic instability, impacts to workers and food insecurity, mental health, substance use, and violence, and housing displacement and migration. It analyzes the risks faced by frontline communities ranging from indigenous populations to farmworkers to these cross-cutting risks.

The report then turns to climate hazards that already exist and are harming public health and are expected to get more severe with climate change. These climate hazards include:

  • Storms, floods, landslides, and sea level rise;
  • Wildfire;
  • Infectious disease;
  • Drought and water quality hazards;
  • Extreme heat; and
  • Air quality and allergens.

For each of these topics, the report describes the health risks, reviews recent extremes that affected public health in Oregon and projections of how the extremes will change, and describes what is being done by state, local governments, and others throughout the state to reduce the health risks from these extremes. Table 4 summarizes the health risks, impacts, vulnerable populations, and gives examples of actions.

The report discusses priorities for public health action in Oregon to reduce climate and health risks. These priorities include:

  • Promoting climate mitigation that maximizes health co-benefits;
  • Collaborating across levels of government and with tribes to promote equitable adaptation;
  • Building capacity to address emerging environmental health threats, including risks to workers;
  • Increasing understanding of mental health effects on individuals and the role of social resilience; and 
  • Supporting the strategies in the OHA State Health Improvement Plan “Healthier Together Oregon.”

“Climate and Health in Oregon” was written by the Public Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority in response to Governor Kate Brown’s Executive Order 20-04. The report was delivered to the Governor, the Oregon Global Warming Commission, and the state’s Environmental Justice Task Force. It will be updated annually.

Publication Date: 2020

Related Organizations:

  • Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division

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Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

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