The brief titled ‘COVID-19 and Planetary Health: How a Pandemic Could Pave the Way for a Green Recovery’ uncovers a key lesson for building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic: policies must link climate, biodiversity and health.
In recognition of the idea that "human health in the Anthropocene requires an integrated approach," the brief sets out several priority areas for policymakers.
The brief is part of the Still Only One Earth series being published by IISD in the lead-up to Stockholm+50.
A policy brief from the International Institute for Sustainable Development uncovers a key lesson for “building back better” from the COVID-19 pandemic: policies must link climate, biodiversity and health. This requires international organizations and agencies to take joint action to promote planetary health, according to authors Nicole de Paula and Liz Willetts.
The brief titled ‘COVID-19 and Planetary Health: How a Pandemic Could Pave the Way for a Green Recovery’ is part of a series of policy briefs reflecting on 50 years of UN sustainable development policy.
The authors recall that current environmental policies “do not effectively support global health and sustainable development objectives,” noting: links between air pollution and respiratory disease, and that water contamination drives microbial diarrhea and viral diseases; that climate change is exacerbating the increasing incidences of hematological, arthritic, and developmental disorders; that climate change and environmental degradation are causing mental and emotional health impacts, mass migration, and forced displacement; and health impacts from long-term exposure to toxins, dioxins, and endocrine disrupting chemicals.
The authors describe the COVID-19 pandemic as “the ultimate manifestation of an interconnected world,” as it has shown how neglect of nature promotes transmission of infectious diseases, and how we all depend on interwoven food and economic pathways, as experienced during lockdown measures. The pandemic thus obliges policymakers to reconsider how they structure and integrate food, waste, water, and energy systems.
Current food systems are “paradoxically a threat to human health,” the authors write, noting that the agrifood system is environmentally detrimental, yields high- emission products, and steers people to overconsume low-nutrition foods. Results include widespread micronutrient deficiency and poor eating in both developed and developing countries, and loss of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, which weakens health systems and changes humans’ exposure to pathogens.
In recognition of the idea that “human health in the Anthropocene requires an integrated approach,” the brief sets out several priority areas for policymakers, including:
- Earmark a portion of climate and sustainable development finance for health projects to ensure health co-benefits;
- Reduce pollution of air, land, soil, fresh water, and ocean by strengthening global coordination on marine litter and microplastics, by supporting the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) to adopt ambitious post-2020 recommendations, and by increasing the focus of supply chains on the life-cycle and circular approaches for products;
- Support diversification in food system production and redirect consumer food patterns, including by promoting domestic food production and local food culture and knowledge;
- Improve sustainable land and forest management to maintain genetic diversity and reduce habitat loss and transmission of pathogens;
- Strengthen the resilience of human immune systems, such as through controls on antimicrobial use and biocides;
- Use comparative information on disease risk factors in cost-benefit analyses;
- Integrate work of environment and health ministries, design economic recovery packages that balance economic growth with human well-being and the environment, reflect environmental issues in health curricula, and engage medical professionals in environment and sustainable development planning and policymaking.
The ‘Still Only One Earth’ series is being published by IISD in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. The briefs assess successes and shortcomings of five decades of global environmental policy, focusing on biodiversity, wildlife trade, sustainable energy, finance and technology, climate change, plastic pollution, poverty eradication, measurement approaches, and private sector action, among other issues. [Publication: COVID-19 and Planetary Health: How a Pandemic Could Pave the Way for a Green Recovery] [Still Only One Earth policy brief series]