By Liz Grant and Liz Willetts
In early September, two hundred medical journal editors raised the voice of the health sector as one in a call to action heading into the Glasgow Climate Change Conference. It was sharp. It was charged. And it pointed to the groundswell of interest in the health sector to engage in the health-environment policy nexus.
From front-line clinicians, to public health and academic experts, to nursing and medical student associations, health professionals are taking advantage of the metaphorical microphone COVID-19 has thrust at them. It’s overdue. It has been six years since the SDGs and integrated development targets were developed and six years since the Lancet introduced the field of planetary health. It has sunk in that ecological degradation drives illnesses like infectious disease, malnutrition, respiratory and heart diseases, cancers, and depression. Experts on both sides of the nexus increasingly see the need for a bridge. Taking climate as an environmental example, health alarm bells have moved from sharp warnings—such as in the 1990 IPCC reports—to a worldwide orchestrated crescendo in the pre-COP 26 medical editorial.
Now what? How do we harness this momentum and turn the enormous human, technical, and financial capacity of the health sector into cohesive, strategic engagement that advances the health-environment nexus? It is readily apparent this sector is ready.
It is time to move from expression to action. “Cross-sectoral engagement.” “Multi-sectoral health governance.” “Systems thinking.” What does this mean in practical terms? How does one do “integrated thinking” and where do you start “interlinking”? What would an expert environmental lawyer and a veteran physician talk about to affect policy change—and would they even share the same language of ideas?