Keynote Lecture by Sir Andy Haines on ' Planetary Health - Linkages between global environmental change and human health'

According to a recent Planetary Health report, human health indicators have never been better. However, this has come at a great cost to the planet. We are now at an inflection point, where feedback loops, through climate change, degrading forests, food and water systems, and declining ecosystem services have started negatively affecting human health again (e.g. via decreased nutrition in industrial foods, anti-microbial resistance, emergence of new infectious diseases like swine flu and spread of vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever). 

Unfortunately, the burden of this environmental health crisis will be highest in the developing world, and inequitably so for the poorest and most vulnerable human communities. Further, the complexity of the problem is exacerbated because of the differences that exist at local, regional, national and global levels. India, soon to become the world’s most populous country, with its deteriorating environmental safeguards and increasingly urbanising population is at substantial risk. Understanding and acting upon these challenges will require collaboration across disciplinary and political boundaries.

To address these challenges and commemorate World Water Day (March 22) and International Forests Day (March 21), ATREE invites you to a keynote lecture by Sir Andy Haines on ‘Planetary Health - Linkages between global environmental change and human health.’

Sir Andy Haines is Professor of Environmental Change and Public Health with a joint appointment in the Dept of Public Health, Environments and Society and in the Dept of Population Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine [Director of LSHTM 2001 to 2010]. Currently, he sits on a number of national and international committees and until recently co-chaired the development group for the Health Knowledge Action Network of Future Earth. 

The keynote lecture will be followed by a panel discussion. Experts on the panel will discuss ways forward to finding socially and environmentally sustainable and equitable solutions to these problems.   

Talk Summary:

Human societies are having pervasive and increasingly dominant effects on natural systems worldwide including climate change, declining freshwater availability and quality, deforestation and land use change, ocean acidification, pollution of air, water and soil, and biodiversity loss. These dramatic changes have led many scientists to conclude that we live in a new epoch, often known as the Anthropocene. These environmental trends pose major challenges to sustaining the biosphere in a state that can support health and the flourishing of humanity and they can adversely affect a range of health outcomes including: water-related and vector-borne diseases; impacts of increased frequency and intensity of extreme events, such as floods, droughts, and heat waves; and food security and undernutrition. In addition there are a range of indirect impacts including population displacement, conflict and increased poverty that could threaten the integrity of societies. For example increased heat stress will substantially reduce labour productivity in tropical and subtropical regions and, together with the potential for reduced crop yields, could drive more subsistence farmers and other disadvantaged groups further into poverty. Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also lower the level of micronutrients, such as iron and zinc, in some food crops. At the same time many fisheries, that provide essential nutrients for large populations, are at or beyond the limits of sustainable exploitation.

Whilst health indicators such as life expectancy and child mortality are improving in many countries, these global environmental changes have the potential to undermine progress.  However with decisive action the risks to health can be reduced by increasing resilience to emerging threats, and addressing the driving forces of environmental change, thus enhancing the integrity of the natural systems on which humanity ultimately depends. Many policies to address the driving forces of environmental change can also improve health in the near term. For example increasing access to clean low carbon energy can reduce air pollution, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  There is an important role for health researchers and health professionals more widely to develop and evaluate strategies to protect and promote health within finite environmental limits. This will necessitate forging interdisciplinary collaboration across a range of sectors and improving governance systems to reduce the risks to health and vital natural systems.

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