Sustainable development: why it matters for diabetes

22 June 2012

As world leaders try to reach consensus in Rio at the most hotly anticipated development discussions in years – the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20 – it’s time to explain why this matters for diabetes.

 
Sustainable development will never be realised while millions of people are dying from preventable diseases every year and while the burden of diabetes and NCDs devours economic growth, our planet’s resources and compromises social justice.

Sustainable development means meeting the needs of the present without damaging the future of our planet. Health advocates made the point in Rio twenty years ago that health and sustainable development go hand in hand. It is rather depressing therefore that in 2012 health advocates - including IDF and the NCD Alliance – have had to make that same point all over again. It seems in global development that we regularly forget what we once knew and have to ‘relearn’ it all over again. But frankly, sustainable development will never be realised while millions of people are dying from preventable diseases every year and while the burden of diabetes and NCDs devours economic growth, our planet’s resources and compromises social justice. 

I am pleased therefore that despite disappointment with wider outcomes at Rio+20, world leaders have affirmed that human health is both an outcome and indicator of sustainable development, and a vital precondition for achieving it. Consensus has emerged that NCDs are not only fundamentally connected to the social and economic ‘pillars’ of sustainable development, but the environmental. We know that environmental and social determinants – the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work and age – control our risk of diseases such as diabetes and our overall wellbeing. Environmental disaster therefore not only endangers wildlife, ice caps and sea levels, but the very health and survival of humans.

Take climate change –the subject of IDF’s pioneering new policy report, an issue of major contention at Rio+20, and potentially the greatest health threat of the 21st Century. Our Diabetes and Climate Change Report shows that as our planet gets hotter and catastrophic events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts increase, people with diabetes are more vulnerable to devastating complications and health system breakdown. And worryingly, it is the same vectors – population changes, urbanization and the dysfunctional global food system – that are driving diabetes risk and climate change across the globe. 

I call for world leaders to forge a pathway at Rio+20 for the future development framework.
 

The connections between diabetes and climate change are just one lens to view the relationship between health and the environment and many more exist. Diabetes is already one major global risk, and it is daunting when environmental meltdown is added to the catalogue of challenges we already face in global health. But if we tackle these challenges together, we can build cities which provide healthy and sustainable choices. We can create a food system which delivers food security to the poorest people, protects our planet and curbs the relentless rise of obesity. And we can unite health, poverty alleviation and environmental protection concerns in a new development agenda, rooted in equity, sustainability and social justice.

I call for world leaders to forge a pathway at Rio+20 for the future development framework. Whether this is through reforming the Millennium Development Goals, developing Sustainable Development Goals, or a creating a new system entirely is not yet clear. But whatever form it takes, addressing the growing epidemic of diabetes and NCDs must be central to future, sustainable development. Only then can we build the future we want – a healthy future for both our people and planet.