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Health beyond the horizon

Planetary and human health - one coin, two sides

In the week that took us one step further from a climate-conscious or secure future in Australia, and as our federal government turned its back once again on renewable energies including wind and small-scale solar, one coalition seems to understand and heed the dire warnings laid out in front of us. Our leader and his ministers may be missing the enormous canary in the proverbial (and literal) mine, but one group of scientists could not see it more clearly. Nor could they be making the links to human health more apparent.

Released this week in the global medical journal, The Lancet, is the The Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission on Planetary Health. A major piece of research and the outcome of 2 years of work from a global team of scientists, this commission focuses on the health of the planet and its links to our own health as humans. It outlines the serious consequences for us all should we allow Climate Change to continue unchecked, and puts it in clear global health terms.

Following a similar landmark report only a few weeks ago, this second commission complements and extends the focus for science, health, medicine and policy communities. It looks beyond a warming planet and the potentially catastrophic effects of heat on humans and ecology - to outline some of the unsettling indirect ways that a changing climate will effect us all. Looking at challenges, opportunities and solutions - it uses tangible examples and a multidisciplinary approach.

A key message of this report, is the outlining of three major challenges that must be addressed in order to achieve climate and planetary health. The first, is overcoming conceptual and empathy failures - the idea that we need to rethink the way we measure our economies, factor-in our impacts on the planet over time and act on the grossly inequitable distribution in these impacts, overwhelmingly on the poorest; those least able to afford adaptation or mitigation. The second looks at knowledge failures or limitations in research and available information such as the continuing shortcomings in cross-disciplinary research, essential to overcoming (and reflecting) the concomitant threats to climate and human health. Lastly, it looks at the implementation failures. Launched during a week marked by political denial and government inaction, it explores the lack of translation, fuelled by uncertainties, pooled common resources, and time lags between action and effect.

A major theme of this commission is the focus on food, and the untapped opportunity to leverage planetary and human health opportunities through sustainable food systems. They write “to support a world population of 9–10 billion people or more, resilient food and agricultural systems are needed to address both undernutrition and overnutrition, reduce waste, diversify diets, and minimise environmental damage.” Supporting this and calling for greater collaboration, communication and co-mitigation across the climate and health communities - particularly between those charged with mitigating climate change and NCDs - Professor Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and I wrote an accompanying piece highlighting the need for the climate and health communities to share a common language, arguing it is the intersections of sustainability and health and their effect on climate mitigation that must be recognised, prioritised, and leveraged. If we can get it right on food, we outlined, we will have come a long way to getting it right for people and the planet. Healthier diets have the potential to reduce not only rates of NCDs and undernutrition, but also our climate emissions - outlining specific examples for a way forward. Finally, we reminded the global scientific community that these risks to both human and planetary health are issues we, as humanity, have created and therefore can and must solve.

This latest commission from The Lancet presents another strong call for greater unity, co-mitigation strategy and collaborative action with regards to climate change, and global human health.

The climate science is clear and the human consequences are alarmingly apparent - the only question is, how do we tell Canberra?


To ask questions or share your thoughts, follow me on Twitter.

To read our short piece, published this week in The Lancet, click here.

The Lancet

For the full Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission on planetary health, click here.

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