The Sant Pau Health and Society Dialogues got underway on September 21st. Organised with the collaboration of the Barcelona Provincial Council and El Periódico, the series of panel debates aims to stimulate reflection on a range of issues related to sustainability and well-being. This article summarises the main conclusions from the first meeting, which was dedicated to the subject of planetary health.
Understanding and respecting the interdependencies between human health and natural systems is essential, even more so in the context of climate and public health crises and tensions in other spheres. Moderated by Fina Ambatlle, project coordinator of the Catalan Sustainable Development Advisory Council, the first dialogue brought together three experts: Sara Soto, Director of the Viral and Bacterial Infections Programme of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health; Carles Castell, Head of Environmental Monitoring Programmes and Actions in the Department of Climate Action at the Barcelona Provincial Council; and Kimberley de Miguel, Head of Marine Pollution Prevention Projects at the Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production, located in the Art Nouveau Site.
Two weeks after more than 200 scientific and medical journals published an editorial on the climate emergency, the three participants agreed on the importance of urgent action to end global temperature rise and the destruction of the natural world in order to protect human health. Sara Soto began the debate by reflecting on how the concept of planetary health originated in the field of health, engaging later on with other disciplines more commonly associated with environmental protection. To illustrate the importance of a systems approach, Soto made reference to the dramatic degradation of the Mar Menor, in Murcia, a phenomenon with multiple economic, social and health impacts. “If the planet were a patient, the diagnosis would be one of multiple, chronic medical conditions requiring urgent attention,” she said.
According to Carles Castell, any intervention in favour of planetary health is, among other things, “a recognition that people obtain benefits from nature”, either in the form of so-called “ecoservices”, or through the added value provided by natural spaces as a location for cultural or leisure activities. “In other words, a robust environment protects people, while degraded or broken natural systems are a source of risks,” he said.
Referring to the pressures suffered by the Mediterranean region, Kimberley de Miguel noted that the Mediterranean is the largest semi-enclosed sea in the world, and the surrounding land receives a third of the world’s tourism. In this geographical area, the coastal population has doubled in the last 40 years. According to de Miguel, as a result of these factors: “Stress on Mediterranean ecosystems is continuous, and this generates a loss of biodiversity, risks to human health, and other phenomena that can have an impact on national and regional security.”
The three speakers made complementary proposals to restore balance between human activity and the planet’s natural systems. Sara Soto advocated for more interdisciplinary research to develop tools for governments and companies to manage this new reality. Carles Castell affirmed that society is increasingly aware of the falsehood of a discourse that pits the economy against ecology. Likewise, he asserted that more value is being placed on rural areas, ecoservices, and health protection, and environmental considerations are increasingly integrated into political and business decisions. Finally, de Miguel opted for systems thinking and prevention to deal with the multiple and simultaneous crises. Specifically, a circular economy approach will eliminate pollution at its source and avoid substances that pose a risk to people and the environment.
Time for cities
On Wednesday, October 20th, at 6 p.m. CEST, the second Sant Pau Dialogue will take place. The expert panel will explore how aspects such as the design of public spaces, the ease of access to services, or air and water quality can determine city habitability and health of urban populations. You can register to attend the session in person or follow the Dialogue remotely on Sant Pau’s YouTube channel.