Global Health Academy

Planetary Health Meeting 2018

A radical liberty to choose: Reconceiving the kind of world we want to live in. Reflections from the event with links to the conference programme and videos of all sessions.

Useful Links

Addressing Planetary Health Challenges

Planetary Health is concerned with both human systems (including economic, political and social) and the earth’s natural systems. It covers the interplay between health and the determinants of health in our physical world, and in the social world we inhabit together as a common humanity. The degradation of ecosystems and the way in which we have structured and maintain our human made systems – such as our economic, our social, our financial, our food and security systems with their inequalities and drives for particular types of wealth – often leads to negative public health impacts. Addressing these grave impacts and achieving global human and environmental sustainability requires urgent dialogue and cooperation between local communities, experts from across different sectors, state and non-state actors and policy makers.

Participation and Commitment: The Annual Planetary Health Meeting in Edinburgh

To advance Planetary Health, we need to change what we do and, importantly, how we work together. This understanding and urgency was behind the establishment of an annual Planetary Health Meeting – bringing together people from diverse sectors and disciplines to share knowledge and build links and commitment to work more effectively together.

The University of Edinburgh was proud to host the second Planetary Health Annual Meeting co-organised by a range of internationally regarded institutions and chaired by the Global Health Academy’s Director, Liz Grant.

See full programme on our event page

Richard Horton, editor-in-chief at the Lancet has written a compelling reflection on the event: Planetary Health - Worth Everything. It calls readers to recognise that we have a momentous choice in front of us:

to reconceive the kind of world we wish to live in. That might feel like an awesome responsibility. It is also a revolutionary emancipation. And it was entirely right that we should have felt that radical liberty to choose last week at the annual Planetary Health conference, held in Edinburgh and led by Liz Grant.

Horton, R., The Lancet, Volume 391, Issue 10137, 2307

Read Richard Horton’s article here: The Lancet, 9 June 2018  DOI:

Being Change Makers: Principles of Participation

What was it about the Edinburgh meeting that created an atmosphere of radical liberty to choose?

The conference in Edinburgh was shaped by set of core principles – these underpinned the meeting and were owned by those who participated. They included:

  • The belief that compassion, human rights, equality and justice are central to our pursuit of the health of the planet
  • The celebration of, and value placed upon, diversity of opinion
  • The commitment to translating original thinking into action in all our work
  • The creation of new opportunities for collaboration and connectivity
  • The recognition that that our work, individually and collectively, contributes to a growing global movement where we can be catalysts for accelerating change.

The Programme: Humanity, rigour and hope

Scotland and Edinburgh, the home of the 1st Enlightenment, called for a 2nd Enlightenment – a paradigm shift in the way we care for humanity and the planet.

The Meeting drew together a diverse group of researchers, scientists, practitioners, policy makers, artists, planners, educators, faith leaders, students and people of all ages from local communities.

Scientific research, opportunities to forge connections and compassion were woven through how the programme was constructed. In addition to the plenary sessions, attention was given to enabling participants to form connections and relationships – in conversation, over food and even dancing together at a traditional Scottish Ceilidh. For systems change, we need to forge new relationships and new ways of working together.

Right from the start, the event included diverse voices: Side-by-side Elder Paulette, a First Nation Advisor, and children form the Scottish Children’s Parliament spoke of their dreams as well as their fears, and set out a call for collective engagement.

While hope is not a strategy, hopefulness can enable individuals and communities to bring about systemic change. Optimism was strong in the face of resounding evidence of existing and imminent crises in the core life domains – food security, physical and mental health, the land, sea and air, our ecosystem, faith, arts and music, business and economics.

The science was presented in each session and on a wide range of posters – science that described the problems, the impacts of problems, but also the opportunities to bring about fundamental changes at national and regional levels. There are opportunities for reducing pollution from plastics, establishing clean energy, creating sustainable food networks, reducing waste, understanding the mechanisms of disease spread through pollution, contamination, famine and drought, shifts to a wellbeing economic alliance, and the development of both national and international conversations on compassion and care for whole health.

Videos of all sessions are available.

Being clear, connected and bold

To advance urgent change, ‘new knowledge’ – in understanding the drivers and the determinants of the multitude of vectors which are shaping our planet – is not enough. 

We need to move beyond words, and create pathways which allow us to see the totality of the effects and impacts of co-existing systems and action responses which take combined ideas to a different new level. We need to recognise the interconnection of all facets of life, including the power of our social systems.

Together we can find new and better ways to collaborate on solutions that can make a difference. Looking for the unintended consequences of all actions, and working to ensure that the intended and unintended consequences of our investments lead to positive outcomes of wellness for everyone and for our planet may seem an impossible task. But if we start to do so, gradually we will see a new world open before us, one where the life source of humanity and humanity itself is valued.