PHAM 2024 – From Evidence To Action: Confronting Reality

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change underscores the critical interconnection between human health and the health of our planet. The Lancet Commission on Planetary Health further emphasises this nexus, highlighting that our civilisation’s well-being relies on the flourishing of natural systems and the prudent management of resources. However, with natural systems undergoing unprecedented degradation, both human health and the health of our planet face imminent peril.

Immediate and concerted action is imperative at this juncture. Nations worldwide must accelerate the implementation of domestic policies on climate change, recognising the intrinsic link between planetary health and human well-being. It is crucial for all stakeholders to collaborate and devise actionable strategies to tackle this pressing global challenge.

The Planetary Health Alliance, a coalition of over 400 organisations from 60 countries, assumes a pivotal role in mobilising the global health, human development, private sector, and civil society communities. Together, they advocate for urgent structural shifts to mitigate our ecological footprint and secure a sustainable future for humanity and all life on Earth.

For the first time, the alliance will be meeting in Malaysia for the 2024 Planetary Health Summit and 6th Annual Meeting (PHAM 2024) where stakeholders in the country can listen, participate, debate and gain valuable information from this invaluable event which aims to support the development of national and international action.

BusinessToday had a pleasant experience speaking with Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood Executive Director of Planetary Health at Sunway University, who was instrumental in bringing PHAM 2024 to Malaysia and on why she thought it was important for Sunway University and Malaysia to host the prestigious event.

“The collaboration between Sunway University and the Planetary Health Alliance to co-organise PHAM 2024 is significant on multiple levels. It underscores Sunway University’s commitment to playing its part in addressing pressing global challenges, particularly those related to planetary health. By joining forces with a prestigious organisation like the Planetary Health Alliance, we’re able to amplify our impact and reach a wider audience with our research, initiatives, and solutions.

For Malaysia, this collaboration brings attention to the importance of planetary health within the national and regional context. It provides a platform for Malaysian researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders to engage in discussions, share knowledge, and forge partnerships aimed at safeguarding both human and environmental well-being. Ultimately, PHAM 2024 serves as a catalyst for advancing planetary health agendas not only within Malaysia but also across the Asia region and beyond,” she said.

Aptly, the theme for PHAM this time is “From Evidence to Action” which highlights the links between thinking and doing, between knowledge generation to practical implementation. Tan Sri Jemilah noted that in the field of planetary health, there’s a wealth of evidence linking human health with environmental sustainability. However, the challenge lies in translating this evidence into meaningful action that can address the complex and interconnected challenges facing our planet.

By focusing on “From Evidence to Action,” PHAM 2024, she said, aims to bridge the gap between research findings and real-world impact. It provides a platform for scientists, policymakers, practitioners, and communities to come together, share insights, and co-create solutions that can drive positive change.

Noting that in today’s rapidly changing world, where environmental degradation, climate change, and health inequities are on the rise, Tan Sri Jemilah emphasised that the urgency to translate evidence into action has never been greater. It is only by harnessing the power of evidence-based approaches and fostering collaboration across sectors, that we can catalyse transformative action towards a healthier and more sustainable future for all.

Assessing Malaysia’s progress in planetary health, Tan Sri Jemilah Mahmood underscored the need for comprehensive evaluation and sustained efforts. While Malaysia has made strides in policy development, challenges such as deforestation, pollution, and biodiversity loss persist. Strengthening environmental regulations, fostering interagency collaboration, and prioritizing sustainability across sectors are crucial steps toward a resilient future.

Looking ahead, Malaysia’s role as Chair of ASEAN in 2025 presents an opportunity to champion planetary health initiatives regionally. Tan Sri Jemilah emphasised the importance of aligning ASEAN’s vision with sustainable development goals, urging political leaders to prioritize environmental stewardship.

“In the immediate term, we need to get the Planetary Health Action Plan finished and its recommendations implemented. We need to exercise leadership with the other 9 ASEAN member states and make sure that the ASEAN 2045 vision is steered in the right direction.” she commented.

Moving Policies Into Action

In terms of policy initiatives, Malaysia has demonstrated commendable progress with initiatives like the 2050 Net Zero Agenda and the Climate Change Bill. However, immediate action is needed to address ongoing environmental degradation and health challenges.

Tan Sri Jemilah emphasised the urgency of phasing out fossil fuels, protecting biodiversity, and accelerating adoption of sustainable practices. Leadership and collective action are paramount in translating knowledge into tangible solutions for a healthier and more sustainable future.

“We are confused, worried and at the same time unable to focus clearly on the gravity of our situation. We are doing a poor job of joining up the dots between our relationship with, and impact on the health of the planet and our health.”

Citing examples, Tan Sri Jemilah said the number of under-50s worldwide being diagnosed with cancer has risen by nearly 80 percent in three decades, according to the largest study of its kind. Global cases of early-onset cancer increased from 1.82 million in 1990 to 3.26 million in 2019, while cancer deaths of adults in their 40s, 30s or younger grew by 27 percent. More than a million under-50s a year are now dying of cancer, the research reveals. And so health services, which are responsible for 5 percent of emissions globally, are being asked to do more.

And while the research has not linked overtly, some of the responsibility for the uptick in rates of cancer must rest with increased levels of fossil-fuel-induced air pollution, and the ingestion of microplastics which are now fully in our food chain, as well as the rise of cheap, easily accessible highly processed foods, which our bodies have a hard time processing.

With no magic wand, Tan Sri Jemilah said humanity must do what it has already agreed through the various conventions and treaties that we have signed up to – the UNFCCC, the Biodiversity Convention, the Agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction and the soon to be adopted Treaty to address plastic pollution, as well as a host of other measures. We need to phase out fossil fuels, respect and protect the planet’s biodiversity, stop producing and using single-use plastics with such incredible abandon and rethink how we co-exist with the planet. This means doing things differently, rather than not doing them at all.

“Ironically, we have the knowledge, the tools, and the skills, but simply lack the leadership and the will,” she said.

Key takeaways from PHAM 2024 include the unveiling of a comprehensive Planetary Health Roadmap and Action Plan, facilitating cross-sectoral collaboration, and capacity-building workshops. The Sunway Centre for Planetary Health plays a pivotal role in driving research, education, and advocacy efforts within Sunway University and the broader community.

By integrating planetary health considerations into business operations and advocating for sustainable practices, Sunway Group exemplifies its commitment to corporate social responsibility and sustainability.

In conclusion, PHAM 2024 serves as a catalyst for transformative action, highlighting the urgency of addressing planetary health for the well-being of current and future generations. Collaboration, innovation, and sustained commitment are essential in safeguarding the health of our planet and humanity’s future.

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