WHO/Europe contributed to the interagency report “From transition to transformation: sustainable and inclusive development in Europe and Central Asia”
Twenty years ago, the Rio declaration on Environment and Development in its first principle stated that “Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature”.
Demographic shifts, rising levels of inequity, global environmental changes, the growing epidemics of noncommunicable diseases and persisting communicable disease threats provide new challenges to sustainable development in the region. Addressing the root determinants of these conditions requires reducing social inequalities and the exposure of people to environmental, biological and behavioural risks to health. Investment in prevention, health services, and the access to basic needs and social welfare are essential.
Great opportunities for progress lie in fostering healthy and reduced consumption and healthy and green developments in energy, transport, housing, urban management and agriculture, as well as in the health sector. For example an increased investment into public transport can reduce air pollution, noise and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, energy consumption and congestion, as well as improve road safety and offer better protection of landscapes and urban cohesion. Increasing mobility and physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, some forms of cancer and hypertension. Reducing GHG emissions in the health sector can contribute to reduce the overall European GHG emissions by 4.2%. This, however, requires the development of a better understanding of the implications of green developments on health and its societal co-benefits, thereby preventing undesired effects.
Sustainable development calls for a new health governance approach, introducing the health dimension in decision-making processes cutting across all public policy areas. The development of this approach requires political leadership, creation and dissemination of know-how across sectors, provision of incentives that promote cross-sectoral work, allocation of resources and clarification of responsibilities.
Measurable progress towards sustainable development requires metrics that integrate the economic, environmental and social dimensions of policy. If "human beings [are] the central concern of sustainable development"...." living a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature" as was stated in Principle 1 of the original Rio Declaration in 1992, better health has to be seen as an indicator of what sustainable development seeks to achieve.