Skip to Main Content

Planet, People and Prosperity: A YIGH Conversation

April 05, 2021
by Rosalind D'Eugenio

Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, opened the spring series of the Yale Institute for Global Health Conversation Series with a discussion on Planet, People and Prosperity.

Yale School of Nursing Dean Ann Kurth welcomed the more than 250 participants on the webinar with an explanation of how planetary health stresses the need to better understand relationships between global-scale impacts and population health and to develop strategies to lessen these impacts, repair natural systems, and maintain the planet in a state that is conducive to optimal population health.

Steiner began his discussion by emphasizing that human health and environmental health are inexplicably linked and that we are destroying the capabilities of nature to sustain the human population. “This is not just a class or location issue as it used to be when the wealthy would live upwind from factories and poor populations lived downwind receiving all the pollutants….Evidence now shows that environmental impacts are clearly linked to the whole human population’s wellbeing,” he said.

The conversation focused on how earth’s life-sustaining ecosystems are being undermined, threatening human development and survival through climate change, deforestation, wetland depletion, and pollution. Steiner, who has spent his career championing sustainable development, green economy and international cooperation, and has been a vocal advocate for 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), advocates that it’s time for all countries to redesign their paths to progress by fully accounting for the dangerous pressure humans put on the planet and dismantle the gross imbalances of power and opportunity that prevent change. He noted that while SDGs are not hard and fast metrics, they are a compass to guide us in establishing a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous future.

“The pandemic highlighted how vulnerable we still are physically, economically and socially…the lack of preparedness became apparent even though advancements in science, technology and the level of wealth would suggest otherwise,” Steiner said.

Steiner responded to audience questions regarding how environmental factors impact everything from immigration (people who see no future in their country flee where there are better resources) to the economy and how this impact often gives rise to conflict, extremism and absence of peace. “We are appropriately seeing links between climate change, environmental changes and peace and security,” he said. “The inability of governments to provide collective leadership is fueling insecurity.” Steiner illustrated the problem by asking a coal mining community to stop their line of work – but with no incentive to replace the jobs and economy that this work brings, there is no incentive to change. Similarly, he said the marketplace bases decisions on profit, not the public wellbeing, and there is currently no incentive for companies to change and lose money. “A sense of just transition needs to happen. Partnerships need to be formed to benefit both investors and the population.”

He closed by saying that “science provides information that makes the human species unique and we can process data to make judgement calls, but science is only one of the multiple aspects that contributes to human sustainability -- it must be a collective effort.”

To watch the discussion on

The event was cosponsored by Yale Institute for Global Health and the George Herbert Walker, Jr. Lecture in International Studies at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale.

Submitted by Alyssa Cruz on April 05, 2021