Health needs to be part of the conversation about investments in nature

GSK's VP of sustainability writes exclusively for ESG Clarity on the health benefits of investing in nature

The science is clear – nature loss is happening at a faster rate than at any time in human history. This is also an urgent threat to human health.

Healthy planet = healthy people

Nature is fundamental to human health – for example, forest protection and restoration can improve air quality and reduce the risk of zoonotic disease spread, climate-resilient water systems can improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene services, and access to nature has an important impact on our mental health and wellbeing.  

Investing in nature protection is an opportunity to prevent disease and improve human health.

Scaling up investments in nature

Nature is the solution to a significant portion of climate change mitigation and adaption, as indicated by a report issued earlier this year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It’s becoming clear we will not keep global temperature rises below 1.50C without nature protection.

Investments in nature, such as reforestation efforts or the restoration of mangroves, are on the rise. In fact, investment is set to skyrocket and the UN has called for investment in nature-based solutions to urgently triple to $484bn by 2030.

Let’s be clear, nature-based solutions need to be done right. They need to happen in parallel with mitigation efforts across operations and supply chains, they must be done with integrity, and be designed to benefit local communities.

As investment and the frameworks that shape it continue to mature, we need to ensure that health is appropriately valued and consistently incorporated into decision making.  

Health benefits of investments in nature

Today however, too many nature-based projects are not explicitly designed to consider, create or measure health impacts. For local communities, health systems, and those investing in nature, this is an enormous opportunity being missed.

One reason for the lack of focus on health benefits is that health is not always included as part of the core objectives of nature investments. Existing frameworks for designing nature-based solutions and measuring their impact do not always capture the health benefits.

There are early signs though that this is changing. At the end of last year, the WHO and International Union for Conservation of Nature echoed the call to focus on the connections between ecosystem health, climate change and human health. The two organisations also issued guidance for policymakers on the integration of health and nature-based solutions. However, notable gaps remain, especially for the private sector.

This work is complex and requires working across disciplines and innovative collaborations – this is one of the reasons why there has been a lack of focus on integrating health outcomes to date. To address this, GSK is developing a toolkit in collaboration with Pollination. The toolkit will be open source with practical tools and information that aims to support companies, investors and developers to incorporate health considerations in the design of nature-based projects and enable better measurement of the health outcomes.

The toolkit will be used to ensure that our nature investments are also embedding health benefit. By investing in early-stage nature projects, we aim to work with the project developers to include health considerations in the project design and implementation, depending on the community needs. One example is our mangrove restoration project in Indonesia which aims to enhance the biodiversity of the local ecosystem, make the local population more resilient to flooding and contribute to local health.

London Climate Action Week – it’s time to act

Following on from London Climate Action Week, it is an opportunity for those investing, or considering investing, in nature-based solutions to look at how projects can be designed to have maximum benefits not just for natural ecosystems, but for humans too.   

To scale the action needed to meet the $484bn by 2030 investment called for by the UN, companies within and beyond the health sector must commit to invest in nature-based solutions with high potential to deliver human health outcomes. This is a fundamental piece of the puzzle towards reaching a net zero, nature positive planet.

This approach is new for many companies and lessons will be learnt as this space continues to mature. By now though, we’ve all seen the twin threat of climate change and nature loss isn’t going to wait for us and it’s time to take action.