Planetary health - a natural part of higher education for health professionals

What is the situation around the world with the inclusion of planetary health in higher education for health professionals? Although researchers have been talking about the relationship between planetary health and human health since the 1970s, the history of planetary health education is actually much shorter.

It wasn't until the early 2000s that there was an international conversation about the need for a paradigm shift in how these issues are addressed in health professions education, particularly in medical education. In recent years, there have been strong and hopeful international initiatives on planetary health, with researchers, teachers and students, among others, pursuing for the inclusion of planetary health in all health professions education programs.

Planetary Health Education Framework - Planetary Health Alliance

There are five fundamental areas that form the core of planetary health knowledge, values and practice: interconnection with nature, the Anthropocene and health, equity and social justice, movement building and systems change, systems thinking and complexity. The framework is based on a constructivist approach to achieving transformative learning through collaborative learning methods and can be used to provide a shared language and core principles for different educational strategies. For inspiration on education in planetary health, read the 2023 special issue of The Lancet Planetary Health journal.

Figure from the article: "A framework to guide planetary health education".

Milestones in the development of planetary health in higher education for health professions

  • 2008 The UK's Climate Change Act was introduced and the National Health Service set up a Sustainable Development Unit to accelerate the process of decarbonization of healthcare.
  • 2009 In the following years, climate change and sustainable healthcare dominated the medical education landscape in the US and the UK, but from around 2013 the reawakening of the concept of planetary health began.
  • 2015 The Rockefeller Lancet Commission on Planetary Health was published in the Lancet.
  • 2015 The White House announced that the Obama administration had signed on for more public health, medical and nursing schools to educate students in the health effects of climate change.
  • 2016 The Planetary Health Alliance was founded on the recommendation of the Rockefeller-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health.
  • 2016 The International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations released a Policy Statement on Climate Change and Health (updated in 2020), calling for climate change to be integrated into medical curricula.
  • 2017 The Lancet Planetary Health journal was launched.
  • 2017 A collaborative project to develop sustainable health education in eight UK medical schools was evaluated.
  • 2017 A call to action for planetary health nursing was published in Journal of nursing scholarship..
  • 2018 Indigenous voices were finally heard in the field of Planetary Health in a special issue of Challenges.
  • 2018 Twelve overarching principles for planetary health education were published was published in The Lancet Planetary Health..
  • In 2019, there was a call for a paradigm shift from global nursing to planetary nursing in the United States, which also advocated for nursing education in planetary health.
  • 2019 The Environmental Physiotherapy Association was founded.
  • 2019 Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, home to the first US academic program on climate and health, launched a global consortium for climate and health education.
  • 2019 The American Medical Association passed a resolution to include climate change across the educational continuum.
  • 2019 Clinicians for Planetary Health was launched in The Lancet.
  • 2021 The UN Environment Programme published, Making Peace With Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies, with authors from indigenous peoples and the need to include traditional knowledge and practices was recognized.
  • 2021 The AMEE Consensus Statement on Planetary Health and Education of Sustainable Healthcare was published, with 35 collaborators from different health professions, including students.
  • 2021 The São Paulo Declaration on Planetary Health called for a citizenship of planetary health in higher education.
  • 2021 The Planetary Health Alliance launched the Planetary Health Education Framework.
Content reviewer:
Annika Clemes