THE BLOG

Healthy Planet Essential for Global Health

03/20/2016 01:25 am ET | Updated Mar 22, 2016
  • Johan Rockström Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University

When it comes to human health, it is time to rethink the notion of a balanced diet. We use an area the size of South America to grow our crops and an area the size of Africa for our livestock.

On this scale, it is no surprise food production is the single largest driver of environmental degradation and a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. But this appetite for destruction is coming back to bite us. Obesity is reaching epidemic levels, yet 800,000 people go to bed hungry.

We face an emergency. The birth of agriculture 10,000 years ago was only possible because of the remarkable stability of Earth's life support system -- the interacting climate, soils, waterways, ice sheets, oceans, atmosphere and rich diversity of life. Our actions now put that stability at risk, and with it our ability to feed ourselves. Last week, research published in The Lancet estimated that in 2050 reduced crop productivity caused by climate change could kill more than 500,000 people.

A growing number of health experts and Earth-system scientists have arrived at a simple and profound conclusion: what we eat is the fundamental link between human and planetary health. Now these experts are coming together for a major new international initiative. On Thursday (17 March), the Stordalen Foundation, based in Norway, The Wellcome Trust and the Stockholm Resilience Centre launched the EAT Foundation.

At the foundation, we want to provide empirical evidence to help societies -- citizens, businesses and governments -- navigate the often contradictory information relating to food, health and global sustainability and make informed choices about how to feed the planet. The EAT Foundation will be a solutions accelerator, bringing key decision makers and experts together to develop workable solutions for healthy people and a healthy planet. We are not kidding ourselves that this will be easy. Food is complex. The challenges are severe and the urgency great. There are no silver bullets.

The most important question we will attempt to answer is how can the global food system improve the resilience of our planet's life support system and the resilience of our species. Given human activities have already pushed Earth beyond four of nine planetary boundaries - related to climate, land use, biodiversity and fertiliser use - there is no time to lose.

Knowledge alone will not be sufficient. We must convert it into action. This requires a new pact between industry, government and scientific research.

The food industry is listening. REMA, a major Norwegian supermarket chain, has outlawed "3 for 2" offers that lead to food waste. Nordic Choice Hotels have reduced restaurant plate sizes cutting food waste by 20%. And Unilever has announced its commitment to sustainable palm oil production throughout its supply chain.

And research indicates people want to be nudged towards healthier eating. Better diets could help prevent cancer, cardiovascular diseases and type-2 diabetes. According to the WHO non-communicable diseases cause over 60% of deaths worldwide and could cost $47 trillion in the next two decades.

At the heart of the foundation is optimism for the future. By 2050, we believe the world can achieve dramatic reductions in food-related diseases, a world without hunger and a planet that is resilient. While there are no quick fixes, healthy diets from sustainable food systems might well be the closest we can get to a silver bullet.


The 3rd annual EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2016 (13-14 June) will gather 500 international experts, business executives, governmental representatives and leaders from UN agencies and civil society.

Authors:

Clare Matterson CBE
Director of Strategy
Wellcome Trust

Gunhild A. Stordalen, MD/PhD
Chair, Stordalen Foundation & GreeNudge
Director, EAT and EAT Stockholm Food Forum

Johan Rockström
Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre

CONVERSATIONS