We need more money for research

KNAW: let's find out how to stay healthy amidst a climate crisis

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The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has just published a report stressing that the effects of climate change are already being felt. “More people are dying of heat stress, severe drought is causing widespread hunger, and certain infectious diseases are spreading to areas where they were not present before.”

Therefore, there are good reasons for carrying out interdisciplinary research on planetary health, an interdisciplinary approach conceived in 2015, which has grown rapidly since then. Basically, planetary health takes into account the influence of the climate and environment on people's health. Last week, KNAW hosted a symposium about it. 

KNAW hopes that more scientific understanding will make it possible to develop better policies. Maybe citizens, policymakers, companies and government bodies will alter their behaviour if they are aware of the health risks posed by global environmental changes.

But, money is necessary to conduct research in this area. The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has already allocated a few millions to the field, as has the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMW). Some of the money is going to specific programmes like "Microplastics and health" but researchers can also take part in an open competition which offers them the chance of acquiring funding if they submit a good proposal.

KNAW would like to see more of those targeted grants. For instance, they argue that a special budget for sustainability issues in healthcare is necessary because that sector is far from being climate neutral. Such issues include high greenhouse gas emissions and waste production.

The research will lead to painful questions as well. Researchers wonder, for example, how one should weigh up patients' individual interests against the impact of their treatment on the climate.

KNAW advises Dutch universities and university medical centres to set up a joint research network on planetary health in the Netherlands, which would also collaborate with similar networks in other countries.

Utrecht already has a research community on Planetary Health, as part of the strategic theme Life Sciences. The faculties of Geosciences, Medicine and Veterinary Medicine have also looked into the possibility of launching a joint, interdisciplinary Bachelir's degree in the area.