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Environmental Factor, June 2012

NIEHS gears up for Rio+20

By Eddy Ball

Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development logo
John Balbus, M.D.

“If we look back to 1992, when the Rio conference talked about development without considering sustainability, it’s clear we’ve come a long way,” Balbus said. “Now the challenge is to establish public health and primary prevention as cornerstones of the framework for achieving sustainable development in 2012 and beyond.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS sponsored or co-sponsored two events, during May, related to the upcoming Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development logo (http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/index.html)  June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro. The events focused on global environmental health and the developmental origins of health and disease. 

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The NIEHS lead for both events was Senior Advisor for Public Health John Balbus, M.D. As part of the preparation for Rio+20, NIEHS held a regional meeting of the World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization (WHO/PAHO) Collaborating Centers in the area of Sustainable Development and Environmental Health (http://new.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogsection&id=18&Itemid=258)  Oct. 24-26, 2011 (see story).

“The goal of NIEHS involvement in these global forums is to promote our science in a number of areas, including indoor and outdoor air pollution, green chemistry, and water contamination, in an international forum that can set the path for global improvements in public health,” Balbus explained. “By partnering with international organizations like the World Health Organization, we can help ensure that decision makers in the realms of sustainable development are aware of the significant health implications of their actions.”

Institute of Medicine (IOM) Roundtable

NIEHS sponsored an IOM Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine (http://iom.edu/Activities/Environment/EnvironmentalHealthRT.aspx)  virtual meeting May 9 on “Global Sustainable Development and Environmental Health: A Conversation Around the 2012 Rio+20 United Nations Conference.” (http://iom.edu/Activities/Environment/EnvironmentalHealthRT/2012-MAY-09.aspx)  The program featured a webinar of presentations on the interactions between health and sustainable economic growth.

In their keynote talks, Balbus discussed “Environmental Health Goals and Indicators for Sustainable Development”; (http://iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Environment/EnvironmentalHealthRT/2012-May-9/Balbus.pdf)  Maria Neira, M.D., of WHO, presented an “Overview of How Health Contributes to Advances in Sustainable Development and Economic Growth”; and Akiko Maeda, Ph.D., of the World Bank, answered the question “Is an Investment in Health Also an Investment in Development?”

Defining environmental health indicators for Rio+20

At a separate event held in conjunction with WHO, NIEHS co-sponsored an expert consultation May 17-18 in Geneva on health indicators for sustainable development. The focus of the consultation was the role of health indicators in monitoring and evaluating performance of sustainable development decisions, as well as in contributing to the governance of sustainable development. 

The discussions laid the foundation for a framework for developing and applying health indicators related to seven critical issues being emphasized in the Rio+20 discussions — decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness. Overall, the group worked to identify issues linking health, on the one hand, and economic development, poverty reduction, consumption, and production and identify a suite of indicators based on available and reliable sources of data on a global basis.

The meeting closed with the development of briefing documents containing a list of health indicators, which WHO’s Director General Margaret Chan will deliver at the  Rio+20 conference. This consultation and set of documents is just the beginning of a process to set long term sustainable development goals and monitor progress towards them.




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