House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee publish report on Our Planet, Our Health

Report published on 3rd September 2019
House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee publish report on Our Planet, Our Health
UKCRIC Deputy Convenor (UCL)

The context in which the UKCRIC research programme sits is one of helping provide the possibility of a better life for all human beings at the same time preserving the planet on which we live and depend; this report gives a political and governance framework for that context in the UK and elsewhere. I commend it as a worthwhile read. You can read the report here

Report summary

Everything we do to the planet, we do to ourselves. Humans are living longer, healthier lives than ever as a result of advances in food production, public health and access to medicines. But the systems that support human life rely on a healthy natural environment and “natural systems are being degraded to an extent unprecedented in human history”. We are concerned that the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry is not sufficiently resourced to deal with projected changes: non-communicable diseases (NCDs) kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 71 per cent of all deaths globally.

Current rates of extinction are at 100–1000 times more than what is considered natural biodiversity loss, and the Government’s progress towards meeting the Aichi targets by 2020 falls woefully short. The Environment Bill must include a framework for legal nature restoration and biodiversity targets, and the Government should set out the principles behind the design of the new environmental land management schemes.

Our food contributes up to 30 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and we waste 10 million tonnes of food every year. The EAT-Lancet Commission recommended a “Great Food Transformation”: an “unprecedented range of actions taken by all food system sectors across all levels … to normalise healthy diets from sustainable food systems”.3 The Government has a responsibility to raise public awareness of its Eatwell Guide, identify ways to promote the consumption of healthy diets that are sustainably produced and ensure the public sector leads by example in reducing meat and dairy consumption. The Government has begun working on a National Food Strategy and should establish a National Council for Food Policy to advise on transforming our food system.

The World Bank estimates that 83 per cent of the UK’s population lived in urban areas in 2017. Cities are responsible for 70 per cent of global emissions. City design and lifestyles contribute to poor outdoor and indoor air quality, with issues ranging from asthma to diabetes, and cause over 40,000 deaths a year. We look forward to the introduction of air quality legislation as soon as possible if we leave the EU.

Integrated urban planning is essential to ensure better planetary health outcomes. The transport sector relies heavily on unsustainable fossil fuel energy and is a contributor to sedentary lifestyles. Witnesses encouraged “active transport”. Poor quality housing and city design has significant harmful impacts on public health, mental health and life expectancy. The Government’s review of the building regulations must take an integrated approach to ensure that sustainability and public health are properly reflected in any new code. The National Planning Policy Framework needs to be updated to promote opportunities for active travel, ambitious green space targets, and access to healthy, sustainable food in planning authorities’ local plans.

Improving public health in the UK while improving the environment will require significantly better data sharing and cross-departmental working. There should be a single point of accountability for planetary health at both ministerial and senior civil service levels. The Government should also establish a joint unit to manage planetary health across Government. To support these meetings, health leaders and organisations must attend: the Chief Scientific Advisers, Public Health England and the Chief Medical Officer all have a major role to play. The UK Government should highlight planetary health at forthcoming international meetings.