On 18-19 February 2021, an online event on Planetary Health was held to launch the collaboration and MoU signing between the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) and Nagasaki University (NU). At this event, a MoU signing ceremony was held, followed by keynote speeches, presentations, and a panel discussion, which all emphasized the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to study, and transdisciplinary collaboration to achieve ’Planetary Health’.
The event started in the morning on February 18 with an opening address delivered by NIES President Dr. Chiho Watanabe. He presented the history of NIES, current research programs and activities, and the next 5-year plan, which will include projects relevant to Planetary Health. This was followed by an opening address by NU President Dr. Shigeru Kohno, who outlined NU and pointed to the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to Planetary Health.
The opening addresses were followed by a MoU signing ceremony by the two presidents.
After the MoU signing ceremony, keynote speeches were delivered to signify the start of the collaboration between the organizations. First, Dr. Chiho Watanabe (NIES President) pointed out that the inter-relationships among economy and civilization, humans, the biosphere, and the earth system were complex involving different fields, and therefore we needed to take a multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach. Next, Prof. Kazuhiko Moji (professor, NU) described how the health concept has developed over time from medical sciences to Planetary Health through public health, global health, and one health (eco-health). He emphasized that health was not just the absence of illness, but it also encompassed ecological and social aspects.
In the afternoon on February 18, three sessions were held. Session A: ‘Climate Change and Planetary Health’ included a presentation on heatstroke prediction in Japan, in which a heatstroke alert system and an improved model for predicting heatstroke patients were proposed, followed by an introduction of the Japan Environment and Children’s study and a review of the IPCC-AR5. Furthermore, the results of a comparative study between Japan, Korea, and Taiwan on urbanization and heat-effects, and the effects of clouds and a change in dust due to desertification on the Earth’ surface temperature were presented.
Session B dealt with ‘Air Pollution and Health’. Here the presentations discussed the health risks of ambient air pollution (PM2.5), resulting from vehicle exhaust, biomass burning, and even cooking, and illustrated how a compact portable sensor could be used to measure PM2.5. Also, the RIHN’s (Research Institute for Humanity and Nature) Project Aakash in India demonstrated that sustainable agriculture, clean air, and public health could be achieved by a behavioral change of the community, stakeholders, and the government.
The topic of Session C was the relationship between the ‘Material Life Cycle and Planetary Health’. Here, the need for the lifetime extension of materials and use of recycled materials to reduce the amount of plastics in the future was underlined. The effects of household footprint, i.e., supply chains from raw materials to consumption such as cars and energy, were also illustrated by a case study. Furthermore, it was pointed out that since deforestation results in increased GHG emissions, biodiversity loss, and changes in the hydrological cycle, it is of utmost importance to implement zero deforestation policies.
The event on February 18 ended with a session on sharing practices among the participating organizations. The common thread that the participants emphasized was that we needed to cooperate and collaborate with different organizations toward the realization of planetary health. As concrete steps, facilitating research and innovation, building and mobilizing networks, co-designing projects with community-based participation of the local people, collaborating with local governments, and cooperating with the Japanese government were mentioned.
On February 19, two sessions were held: one on ‘Global Health and Planetary Health’ and the other on ‘Space and Global Health’. The first session dealt with how to secure the environment for future generations. As existential issues, global catastrophic risks such as climate change, biodiversity loss, artificial intelligence, pandemics, advanced biotechnologies, nuclear weapons, and mass destruction were raised. Although achieving planetary health is the ultimate goal, with the present COVID-19 pandemic that is believed to be of zoonic origin, attention has recently focused on “One Health” i.e., the interaction between humans and animals, which calls for collaboration between veterinary and medical sciences.
The next session comprised presentations on how data from Earth observation satellites could be utilized to elucidate air quality, climatic conditions, human activity, and land cover/land use. Satellite data is indispensable for predicting health risks, such as malaria, dengue fever, and other tropical diseases, which are caused by changes in climate (heavy rain, heat, and humidity) and land use (e.g., deforestation/afforestation), and help prepare for preventive measures. Furthermore, observation satellite data is useful for the prediction of infection outbreaks in areas where it is difficult to survey. Satellite data has also confirmed a temporary reduction in CO2 and NO2 concentration as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns.
The two-day presentations were wrapped up with a discussion on future collaborations. All the participants agreed that issues of planetary health cannot be solved by one discipline alone. For example, medical professionals alone cannot eradicate diseases without the help of other professions. For best results, researchers and practitioners must work together, linking different professions and skills. In this, we face great challenges, e.g., how can we combine huge satellite datasets with epidemiological data (e.g., malaria)? How can we translate science-based solutions and evidence from researchers to implementation and action? There are gaps between different research communities, but without close collaboration, global health issues cannot be solved.
The following proposals were made for concrete collaboration areas:
- Provide capacity building courses in transdisciplinary research.
- Educate young people in planetary health.
- Combine Future Earth’s Global Research Projects (GRPs)*1 and Knowledge-Action Networks (KANs)*2.
- Expand collaborations, e.g., inter-university collaborations.
- Collaborate with academics in the form of webinars/seminars.
- Establish joint research and international exchange, including more formal ways such as MoU, with JICA and other organizations.
- Use the momentum of COVID-19. Research on COVID-19 is not limited to health but addresses urban development, environmental issues, sanitation, etc.
Further possible collaboration ideas included topic-based, methodological, tool development, data management and usage, educational, and networking collaborations.
In his closing remark, Dr. Chiho Watanabe, NIES President, reiterated that Planetary Health is a multidisciplinary subject and that collaboration should be comprehensive and future-oriented. The conclusion of the two-day online event was that collaborative, inclusive, and strategic research was the only way to achieve a sustainable, healthy, and peaceful Earth for future generations. It was also underlined that to achieve the goals of collaborative research, a common vision was a necessary basis. We have to work closely together for the common goal of achieving planetary health and saving the Earth for future generations! And we hope that this two-day event was a good start toward this goal.