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A turning point for planetary health

PLOS Global Public Health and PLOS Climate Section Editors Renzo Guinto, Tolu Oni & Anna M. Stewart Ibarra discuss the São Paulo Declaration on Planetary Health

This post is co-published on the PLOS blog Speaking of Medicine & Health.

The interconnectedness of life on our planet is a concept that is often invoked, but that has perhaps never before been so urgent and relevant to society and the decisions we must take. The climate emergency, biodiversity loss, rapid urbanisation and different forms of environmental pollution interact with enormous challenges in global public health such as infectious disease outbreaks and a rising non-communicable disease burden. These multiple interlinked crises make it clear that fundamentally interconnected thinking across issues, sectors, disciplines, nations and cultures is needed to find effective solutions and actions.

As a transdisciplinary field of research and a social movement, planetary health seeks to analyse and address humanity’s manifold impacts on the planet and on our health. The movement has been gaining momentum in recent years. In October 2021, following the Planetary Health Annual Meeting in São Paulo, Brazil, the Planetary Health Alliance launched the São Paulo Declaration on Planetary Health, an urgent call for decisive action to alter the current trajectory of our impact on the planet.

Spurred on by the structural failings and social inequities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Declaration highlights the opportunity afforded by the pandemic to rebuild a more sustainable, equitable and secure way of living on Earth. The landmark Declaration advocates for a fundamental shift in how we live, termed the ‘Great Transition’. Crucially, it outlines, for the first time, specific actions necessary to achieve this. Among others, there are clear lines of action for governments, researchers, the health sector, businesses, educators, artists, lawmakers, economists, urban planners, and young people. For the research community, the Declaration calls for transdisciplinary efforts to identify solutions, inclusive approaches, open science, co-design and participatory approaches with communities, and highlights a need to elevate the role of scientists from middle- and low-income countries.

While researchers are referred to in the Sao Paulo declaration, academic publishing actors are not explicitly mentioned. We believe that academic journals, their editors, and their reviewers have a vital part to play in using their platforms to showcase the growing planetary health evidence base, while also ensuring that diverse voices are amplified and good science is shared without barriers to access. 

To this end, PLOS Global Public Health has a dedicated environmental and planetary health section to provide a platform for innovative ideas for tackling the planetary health emergency to improve health on a warming planet. Likewise, PLOS Climate also features a section dedicated to health research that intersects with climate change. Since advancing planetary health requires research and solutions from a diverse array of disciplines and sectors, we are sure that research from across many disciplines- and interdisciplinary spaces- will find homes not just in PLOS Global Public Health and PLOS Climate, but also in the other new journals launched by PLOS this year.

Renzo Guinto is the Chief Planetary Health Scientist of the Sunway Centre for Planetary Health in Malaysia and the Inaugural Director of the Planetary and Global Health Program of the St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine in the Philippines. He is Section Editor for Environmental and Planetary Health at PLOS Global Public Health.

Tolu Oni is co-Director of the Global Diet and Activity Research Network, a Clinical Senior Research Associate at the MRC Epidemiology unit, University of Cambridge and Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town. She is Founder of UrbanBetter and Section Editor for Environmental and Planetary Health at PLOS Global Public Health.

Anna M. Stewart Ibarra is the Scientific Director of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research and Section Editor for Health at PLOS Climate.

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