Report Calls for Immediate, Global Action to Protect the Environment

The unprecedented degradation of the planet's natural resources and ecological systems at the hands of humans is jeopardizing the health and well-being of future generations, a report from the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health warns.

Written by fifteen leading academics and policy makers from institutions in eight countries, the report, Safeguarding Human Health in the Anthropocene Epoch, warns that a growing global population, unsustainable consumption levels, and the overuse of natural resources is likely to exacerbate global health challenges in the future. The world's poorest communities will be among those at greatest risk, the report notes, as they tend to be located in regions where disease and poor health already are prevalent.

"We are on the verge of triggering irreversible, global effects, ranging from ocean acidification to biodiversity loss," said Sir Andy Haines of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who led the commission. "These environmental changes — which include but extend far beyond climate change — threaten the gains in health that have been achieved over recent decades and increase the risks to health arising from major challenges as diverse as under-nutrition and food insecurity, freshwater shortages, emerging infectious diseases, and extreme weather events."

In conjunction with the report, The Lancet and  Lancet Global Health have published two studies — Effects of Decreases of Animal Pollinators on Human Nutrition And Global Health, which shows that global declines in animal pollinators could lead to an additional 1.4 million deaths annually; and Effect of Increased Concentrations of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on the Global Threat of Zinc Deficiency, which suggests that by 2050 between 132 million and 180 million people could be at risk for zinc deficiency, resulting in hundreds of thousands of premature deaths from reduced immune function.

In its report, the commission outlines policies and actions that can help protect the environment and human health, including better integration of social, economic, and environmental policies designed to promote efficient use of resources; the strengthening of governance and monitoring efforts aimed at reducing risks to health and critical ecosystems; improving health systems by integrating environmental health needs, with a focus on  resilience to climate risks; reorganizing and expanding knowledge and research about planetary health and potential adaptation strategies; and reporting on progress both nationally and internationally.

To that end, the Rockefeller Foundation announced grants totaling $15 million to establish the underpinnings of planetary health as a new discipline; those funds are in addition to the $200 million the foundation has invested in resilience initiatives over the last five years. Among other things, the new funding will support the ongoing efforts of the Health & Ecosystems: Analysis of Linkages (HEAL) initiative, the creation of a new advisory committee at Harvard University, and efforts by the African Risk Capacity, an agency of the African Union, to launch an insurance mechanism that is designed to prevent pandemics through the early payout of claims.

"The Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Planetary Health Commission has issued a dire warning: Human action is undermining the resilience of the earth's natural systems, and in so doing we are compromising our own resilience, along with our health and, frankly, our future," said Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin. "We are in a symbiotic relationship with our planet, and we must start to value that in very real ways. Just as foundation leaders a hundred years ago took a holistic view and launched the field of public health, the commission's report marks a paradigm shift for a new era of global public health, one that must be integrated with broader policy decisions."

"Human Activities Are Jeopardizing Earth’s Natural Systems and Health of Future Generations." Rockefeller Foundation Press Release 07/16/2015. Judith Rodin. "Planetary Health: A New Discipline in Global Health." Rockefeller Foundation Blog Post 07/16/2015.