Planetary Health: Potential Pathway Towards a More Resilient World Post-COVID-19

The current COVID-19 pandemic has been wrecking the world for almost two years. Among the various theories that attempt to offer explanations of its causes, environmental degradation has emerged as a plausible answer. This view is founded on studies that suggest there is a causal relationship between ecosystems and capability to regulate diseases. It essentially posits that increasing risks of zoonotic disease outbreak and spread are contributed by degenerating nature. This framing positions environmental protection and conservation a key component in ensuring public health for generations to come.

The ongoing public health crisis is gaining planetary health concept some traction. The concept, which was formally introduced in 2015, establishes that the health and the care of the natural systems determine human health and human civilisation. The basic proposition of this concept is not new since the need to safeguard nature to ensure sustained well-being of mankind has long been acknowledged. It is in fact enshrined in the 1972 Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which is the first global document on the environment.

What is special about planetary health concept is that the environmental focus came from the public health discipline. It signals that the care for nature is no longer an exclusive concern of environment-related domains and suggests that environmental protection is increasingly becoming a pre-condition for other sectors to perform well. It therefore calls on other sectors, including the public health itself, to accord priority on nature.

Planetary health is founded on systems thinking. It thus offers an overarching goal of environmental protection and conservation which different sectors need to adhere to if the world were to minimise the risk of another pandemic in the future. Adopting planetary health as the guiding principle across sectors will allow measures such as respecting the Earth’s biocapacity limits to be applied in sectors that deal with resource extraction. The concept will likewise help synergise priorities and resource allocation across sectors with a common aim of improving and safeguarding the health of the planet.

Planetary health concept presents a potential pathway towards a more resilient post-COVID-19 world. Considering its commonality with green recovery that likewise emphasises on the environment, green recovery discourse could serve as an entry point for planetary health concept to get introduced and gain relevance across sectors.

The problem, however, lies in whether countries will embark on a green recovery post-COVID-19. At the time of writing, countries continue to struggle between containing the spread of the virus and reviving their economies. As such, countries may choose to stick to existing, or slightly modified, developmental pathways to wade through this pandemic time.

For a better, more resilient world post-COVID-19, more efforts need to be made to operationalise planetary health concept in different sectors and push it through green recovery plans at the global, regional, and national levels.