Our Approach

The Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) is a consortium of universities, NGOs and other partners with a shared mission—supporting the growth of a rigorous, policy-focused, transdisciplinary field of applied research aimed at understanding and addressing the human health implications of accelerating change in the structure and function of Earth’s natural systems. 

PHA will be hosted by Harvard University’s Center for the Environment and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, but it will seek to draw together like-minded organizations and individuals from around the world in an effort that extends well beyond Harvard’s walls.  The Alliance’s products will be publicly accessible; its faculty will be housed in numerous universities and other organizations; its reach will be global. It will be overseen by a Steering Committee including senior faculty, other scientists, and policy makers from around the world.

Our goal is to have the Planetary Health Alliance serve as a unifying and integrating force that engages with other organizations, groups, and individuals around the world to help them come together in support of a more robust field of planetary health. We aim to support:

A Community of Practice: Generating a community of practice from across a variety of disciplines requires creating common ground.  Educational materials, a shared literature, a common source of communication about new scientific findings, alerts regarding job opportunities and meetings, shared methodologies, protocols, and datasets, and an online journal club are ways to generate this common ground and stimulate the growth of the field.  Please see our Research and Education pages for more information on the specific functions the Planetary Health Alliance will perform in order to develop a professional community of practice.

Research: A robust research effort investigating and quantifying the human health impacts of global environmental change is the engine at the heart of building a discipline of Planetary Health and informing policy discussions. The Planetary Health Alliance will not be tasked with carrying out research itself, but will take place in the context of a rich research environment where numerous planetary health-related research activities will be ongoing. We see many of the activities delineated under our Research section as integral to creating such a robust research effort.  Training in planetary health topics, support in using relevant datasets and research methodologies, announcements about relevant new research and job opportunities, an annual convening to share research results and opportunities are all necessary elements of building a cadre of young investigators with the capacity and motivation to break new ground in this field.  In addition, the Planetary Health Fellows will be full time research positions, competitively awarded to post-doctoral candidates with outstanding track records within their disciplines and strong capacity to step out of their disciplinary experience to engage in trans-disciplinary planetary health research with PHA-associated faculty.

Funding for Planetary Health: The development of a robust field at the intersection of global environmental change and human health has been hampered in part by a lack of funding to support research and teaching.  Both government and non-governmental sources of funds for research and teaching tends to be compartmentalized into either health or environmental science disciplines but rarely cuts across both.  In addition, government health funding is often further silo’ed to specific disease entities. As most faculty positions at schools of public health are “soft money” positions which are funded by research grants, the absence of a reliable source of funding for planetary health research also prevents recruiting, developing, and promoting faculty capable of teaching planetary health material.  A focused effort is required to alter this funding landscape in order to stimulate robust growth in the planetary health field.  Specifically, PHA will support efforts to:

  • Help U.S. government agencies such as NIH, NSF and USAID to understand the importance of creating a program focused on Planetary Health. Without such reliable funding sources, it will be very challenging for universities to develop and promote faculty working on these topics, and for civil society and other stakeholders to be able to take action based upon science and policy guidance generated

  • Work with foundation partners to create a coalition of foundations committed to supporting Planetary Health

    Policy Efforts: The Commissioners on the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health clearly believe that degradation of ecosystems often leads to negative public health impacts. Unless, however, these impacts are proven and quantified in actionable ways, they remain vague externalities that are not factored into decisions about public health or natural resource management. The emergent field of Planetary Health must be more than academic in nature, and if proactively conceived in the context of recognized policy gaps and needs, it is poised to deliver powerful new and convincing arguments that demonstrate the range of critical relationships between the state of natural systems and health. Please see our Policy page for more details on our approach.