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G7 One Health Summit

January 09, 2023

The confluence of human and planetary health, climate, biodiversity and Indigenous knowledge at the G7 Research Summit on One Health in November 2022 was a perfect fit for the University of Victoria. Four of our eminent scholars attended the Royal Society of Canada-hosted event in Lake Louise to share research and thought leadership, and to learn from some of the best minds across Canada and around the world.

The RSC’s goal was to create an event to help chart a path to global recovery from the pandemic by embracing the interdependence of nations, environments and all species, including humans.  

“This G7 Summit on One Health brought researchers, practitioners and policy makers from across disciplines and sectors, from all seven member countries (Canada, Japan, Italy, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom),” says Cynthia Milton, professor of history and associate vice-president research at UVic. “It is only through such broad approaches to tackling and understanding the interdependency of the many challenges in our world that we will be able to address human and planetary health.” 

The first discussion was moderated by John Smol, president of the RSC’s Academy of Science. UVic’s Julia Baum, professor of ocean ecology and global change, was part of the four-person panel. Dr. Baum has spent decades working to document change and protect the beauty and diversity of coral reef ecosystems. Oceans, she pointed out, are key regulators of global climate, absorbing more than 90 per cent of the heat from our greenhouse gas emissions. 

“It is humbling for any of us to realize,” she said, “that our life’s work may, in fact, fail to achieve the desired results. I came to realize that working to mitigate climate change could have a far greater positive impact on coral reefs than working on them directly. 

“What I now know is that the antidote to climate anxiety is optimism, courage and agency – recognizing the spheres of influence that each of us has. For me, this means choosing to devote my time and energy to propelling forward climate action in every facet of my life: individually; in my teaching; in my lab; at UVic; and beyond, as a Science Advisor to Ocean Visions and Kelp Rescue, two new groups dedicated to ocean solutions, and by speaking out publicly about the urgent need for action.” 

Ian Mauro, executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, and Nancy Turner, professor emeritus of ethnobotany and Environmental Studies, participated as rapporteurs in two of the sessions. 

“As I understand it,” says Dr. Turner, for the discussion on food safety, “the notion of ‘one health’ started with a more limited recognition of the links between human health and animal-borne diseases but has now been expanded to recognizing the interconnections between human wellbeing and the health and wellbeing of the entire planet – of all living things and their ecosystems.” 

In order to cope with the complexities of these relationships, Turner recounts the experts concluding, we need a good definition of food systems, food security and food safety and what these encompass, from a One Health perspective: environmental, social, political, nutritional, local, national and indeed international. In light of what we know about social ecological systems, she continues, we need to understand the existing disparities in our societies, and the potential need for trade-offs between tight controls, economic gain, cultural practices, environmental health and a good life. 

Dr. Mauro cautioned, “We talked about the need for a holistic approach 50 years ago and called it ‘sustainability.’ We need to look at lessons learned from the past so we don’t trick ourselves into thinking that rebranding as ‘one health’ means we’re on a substantively different track. 

“We need to challenge ourselves, we can’t just will our way into systems change, how can research be truly transformational?

“We in academia need to up our game in collaborative ways and one health provides a valuable framework and process for this. Indeed, the national academies can convene sectors around these complex problems, creating stronger mechanisms for knowledge creation, mobilization, bold recommendations and ultimately informed decision-making and meaning-making within society.” 

Baum concluded, “A one-health solution for climate change must reflect both the inequity of this crisis, and the responsibility that those with great privilege and power – all of us in this room – have to address it.”