Planetary Health: The Recipe for a Sustainable Future

The concept of Planetary Health is too human-oriented. The emphasis here is mainly on the consequences for our health through global environmental disturbances. Later definitions are already better, with the focus more on the health of our planet and the realization that human health ultimately depends on the health of the planet. For example, climate change and the decrease in biodiversity are unhealthy for the earth and everything that lives on it, including humans. However, the field of Planetary Health is more than that. It is not only the realization that everything is connected, but also the realization that it is not nearly enough to keep the planet ‘as it is’. Positive, regenerative development must take place to keep the planet and everything on it healthy. This also includes a different way of dealing with our earth, a change of perspective. When we respect our planet, we respect life, we respect ourselves. That is also what I believe Planetary Health stands for. Taking sustainability to the next level!

Read, watch or listen to my inaugural address regarding the Chair Planetary Health below:

Vacancies System Earth Science and Plant Systems Biology

Hiring! Some wonderful vacancies:

We are seeking outstanding individuals to join our faculty to help develop our new activities in the areas of system earth science and plant systems biology at the Maastricht University Campus Venlo, The Netherlands.

Professor Plant Ecology/Biodiversity

Assistant Professor Plant Ecology and Biodiversity

Assistant Professor Planetary Health

Professor Sustainable Food Systems

Assistant Professor Plant Systems, Computational or Synthetic Biology

Pakistani Students Attitudes’ Toward Animals

The nature of human–animal interactions is diverse. Animals have been an essential part of human lives for centuries, from being hunting partners to companion animals at home and livestock raised for human consumption at farms. Given this bond and inter-dependence, significance of attitude toward animals and other related influential factors is increasingly being recognized within the field of human–animal relationships as well as animal welfare. More recently, researchers have increasingly highlighted people’s positive attitude toward animals due to their numerous physical and psychological benefits for individuals as well as society. These benefits included enhanced physical health, increased happiness, reduced loneliness and anxiety, and enhanced social interactions.

Similarly, animals are an integral part of people’s lives in Pakistan. They serve various roles as pets, livestock, transportation and food animals, even being part of religious practices. However, despite playing such crucial roles in society, very little is understood about how people view and treat animals in general and how these views affect animal welfare. 

It is important for students to understand ethical issues and to implement a change that supports animal welfare. Young adults are at a crucial stage of transitioning into adulthood and have a vested interest in the future of the society. They are further exposed to a multitude of information through different channels that lead to formation of views and opinions about critical topics. To bring about such a change requires considering students’ existing understanding, including their views on moral reasoning and ethical concerns.

To the best knowledge of the authors, the current study is the first one to explore ethical ideologies alongside attitude toward animals among students in Pakistan. The study showed that there was a positive relationship between ethical ideologies (idealism and relativism) and positive attitude toward animals. Individuals who believed that their moral behaviors always led to desirable outcomes as well as held universal moral principle were more concerned about animal welfare and held more positive attitudes towards animals. Further, individuals who believed that moral decision should be based on situational factors were also concerned for animal welfare. It was also evident from findings of study that students in advanced stages of their program held greater idealistic ideologies as compared to students in their initial semesters. Lastly, idealism was found to predict positive attitude and concern for animal wellbeing among students.

Read the full paper here: Khalid, A., Martens, P. & Khalid, A. (2023) Impact of Ethical Ideologies on Students’ Attitude toward Animals – A Pakistani Perspective. Animals, 13(3), 927.

Climate change adaptation in Central America: A review of national policy efforts

As a tropical developing region, Central America (CA) is one of the areas most vulnerable to current climate variability and future climate change. CA had already been severely affected by changes in climate variability and extreme events and there is a grave potential for an increase in the risk of disasters and therefore multiple losses due to climate change.

CA has a combination of social, economic, and governance factors that exacerbate its exposition to risk. For example, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua are more vulnerable compared to Costa Rica and Panama, where governance, health, and income indicators point to better conditions to face current climate variability and sustain adaptation to climate change.

The authorities of the region have responded to the climate change challenge with a combination of measures integrated into laws, strategies, and plans. Notwithstanding the progress reported in this article, recent developments are hampering and even converting into regressions the advancements in adaptation policy discussed here. Among the destabilizing situations of the economic and political fabric, which sustain progress, we could mention the uprisings and repression in Nicaragua; conflict and threats among the executive and judiciary powers in Guatemala; challenged electoral results, corruption scandals, and social unrest in Honduras; and the increasing fiscal deficit and political deadlock in Costa Rica to advance state reforms. This situation supports the conclusions on corruption as a threat to adaptation efforts, and the vital role of institutions for advancement adaptation.

Read the full paper here: Segura, L.D., Van Zeijl-Rozema, A. & Martens, P. (2022). Climate change adaptation in Central America: A review of the national policy efforts. Latin American Policy, November 2022,

Planetary Health leaders unite to build transformational change

‘We must act now!’ Organizations from across Europe come together to address the Planetary Health crisis being precipitated by the Earth crisis

AMSTERDAM – A new network of over 72 organizations from 12 countries was activated during a convening at ARTIS on September 26-27. Representatives are aligned around the transdisciplinary field and social movement of Planetary Health, which analyzes and addresses the impacts of human disruptions to natural systems on human health and all life on Earth. The Planetary Health European Hub consists of organizations from sectors including universities, healthcare, youth, business, civil society, and more. 

Co-organized by the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) and the European Environment and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils Network (EEAC), the new hub was conceived to focus on the policy, funding, and organizational landscapes that make Europe rich in opportunities for building transformational change. 

“From the European Green Deal, the Health Environment Research Agenda for Europe, to the upcoming Horizon Health 2023 Agenda, now is the time to connect the dots, build collaborations, make links within the policy community, and fund Planetary Health priorities at scale,” said Sam Myers, Director of the Planetary Health Alliance and Principle Research Scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Members of the European Hub, including Maastricht University, came together in person and online and agreed on the Hub’s principles, developed working groups to tend to plans in research, education, policy, and movement building, shared lessons learned, built relationships, and set the framework for sustaining the Hub into the future.

For more information about the Planetary Health European Hub or to get involved, visit or follow the Planetary Health Alliance on social media.

Animals in Animal-Assisted Services: Are They Volunteers or Professionals?

Animal welfare is a growing concern in Animal-Assisted Services. Although studies have been conducted on stress signals and—to a lesser extent—positive emotions, no research has yet been conducted on the motivation of the integrated animal, to the best of our knowledge. Not all therapy animals are trained to assist. Are they volunteers or professionals? Volunteers have a higher degree of self-government and can quit when they are not motivated anymore. Professionals might, however, go the extra mile. Can we compare animal volunteers and professionals to their human equivalents? If so, this might help to structure discussions about animal welfare and motivation in interventions. Furthermore, it can provide better arguments for the career planning and career ending of these animals. Using animal-friendly interventions might influence motivation and, consequently, the moment at which efforts cease. Studying motivation is not easy, as it requires data on dopamine, the molecule involved in motivation, reward and repetition of behavior. However, the use of wearable techniques such as on site electroencephalograms (EEGs) for freely moving animals and non-invasive dopamine measurements is a developing and promising area of research. The translation of these data into context-ethograms—ethograms that show behavior in a context/intervention—can help handlers and therapists to understand the behavior of their therapy animal better and with less subjectivity.

Read the full paper here: Wijnen, B. & Martens, P. (2022). Animals in Animal-Assisted Services: Are They Volunteers or Professionals? Animals, 12(19), 2564;

The use of scenarios in climate policy planning

Scenarios are often used to depict the possible outcomes of alternative future developments as part of the evaluation of climate and energy policy measures. In Finland, scenarios have become a standard practice in climate-related policy planning. However, scenario planning often results in a single cohesive narrative, which lacks transparency in why certain developments and solutions are included and others left out.

This article focuses on how scenarios created during the planning of Finland’s Medium-term Plan for Climate Change Policy (KAISU) were built, and how the actors involved assessed the characteristics and quality of these scenarios. We interviewed a total of 18 participants from research, administration, and policymaking domains involved in the creation of the plan and the scenarios it contains. Semi-structured interviews provided an insight into the creation and use of scenarios as part of policy formulation, as well as points of further improvement for the process.

The KAISU plan was constructed as a cross-sectoral collaborative effort between policymakers, public officials, and researchers. Despite the variety of actors involved in the process, the resulting scenarios were perceived as well executed by the participants. However, national scenario foresight could be improved in three dimensions: 1) the process where actors collaborate to build scenarios, 2) the scenario methodology, where solutions and developments are included or excluded, and 3) use of the scenarios after their construction.

Read the full paper here: Aro, K., Aakkulaa, J., Lauttamäki, V., Varhoa, V., Martens, P. and Rikkonen, P. (2022). The use of scenarios in climate policy planning: an assessment of actors’ experiences and lessons learned in Finland. Climate Policy, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2022.2123773

Planetary Health: Taking sustainability to the next level

After being a professor of Sustainable Development for more than 18 years, I am proud to let you know that – as of today – I will hold the chair Planetary Health at Maastricht University.

For me, Planetary Health has always been the foundation of sustainable development. However, the sustainability debate has been hijacked in recent years by industry and governments. Their view regarding sustainable development significantly has been subordinate to the dogma of economic growth with little regard for planetary health. How shortsighted this is, has been illustrated by the various outbreaks of zoonotic diseases (with corona as one of the latest examples), our current climate crises and the global decline of biodiversity. These are just some examples, but it is increasingly clear that our own well-being is closely connected with the health of the planet on which we live.

It is not nearly enough to keep the planet ‘as is’. There has to be a positive, regenerative development in order to make the planet, and everything on it, healthy. If we respect our planet, we respect life, we respect ourselves. That is also what the new chair Planetary Health stands for. Taking sustainability to the next level!

The dietary ecological footprint 

Food consumption is increasingly impacting the environment. Our results for China, together with previous findings, demonstrate that dietary patterns could contribute directly and significantly to the dietary Ecological Foot Print (EFP), and animal-based diets have greater environmental consequences in terms of land use than plant-based diets.

This study highlights again the dominant role of meat consumption, especially pork and seafood, in dietary patterns, suggesting that China has entered an era dominated by animal-based products. India, as another fast-developing country with the second-largest population, however, did not consume much meat, fish, or eggs. This resulted in a relatively lower environmental footprint for Indian people than for Chinese people. Although dietary choice is a personal matter, owing to the increasing environmental concern, individuals are motivated to change their dietary patterns. A transition to eating less meat would therefore reduce the negative environmental impacts. However, rising incomes and urbanization are driving a global dietary transition in which traditional diets are replaced by diets higher in refined fats and meats. This trend is especially significant in developing countries like China, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, and Mexico.

Graphical Abstract

In light of the generally continually increasing income, diversity dietary cultures, and dietary transitions, the impacts on environmental resources of meat consumption will be severe. Hence, incentives should focus on improving people’s awareness of sustainable dietary patterns. 

Read the full paper here: Su, B., Zhang, C., Martens, P. & Cao, X. (2022). A comparative study on the dietary ecological footprint in contemporary China. Science of the Total Environment, 851 (2), 158289.

Public awareness, lifestyle and low-carbon city transformation

Climate governance is not only an issue of emission reduction, but also a question of how to make people change their lifestyle of generating high carbon emissions. In our Chinese study, there are huge differences in citizens’ lifestyles, economic means, consumption habits, and awareness among different regions of the Western, central and Eastern parts of China due to unbalanced development.

Public understanding mainly relates a low-carbon city to a low-carbon life, and that here is a gap between low-carbon awareness and low-carbon behaviour. From the reviewed articles, we learned that while some citizens have knowledge of the conception of a low-carbon economy, it actually is rather difficult for them to change their behaviour as their low-carbon behaviour is passively affected by government, media and enterprises who advertise low-carbon products.

Then there are others who have been living a low-carbon life for many years, although they do not have any specific knowledge about the low-carbon concept. Improving the understanding of people’s motivation, concerns and cultural constraints as well as including aspects of reconciliation from the philosophical perspective might unify knowledge and action.

Education plays a vital role in improving people’s low-carbon awareness and changing traditional behaviours, which requires schools to provide more low-carbon knowledge to students and encourage them to engage already in an early age in low-carbon consumption habits.

Besides China, there are many other countries that are making an effort to reduce carbon emissions. For high-income European countries, such as the UK, Finland and the Netherlands, further behavioural changes in mobility patterns, housing or diet choices, which made up the largest contributions to household carbon footprints is most needed but also feasible. The aim of low-carbon city development is to create and put into practice city construction and social development models that will help to reduce carbon emissions under the premise of ensuring continuous improvements to the quality of life, whether it is economic development, consumption or transformation of lifestyle. When the different departments of cities attempt to cooperate and make rational use of natural resources and reduce carbon emissions, it will not only contribute to sustainable urban development but will also benefit individuals.

Read the full paper here: Wu, Y., Martens, P. & Krafft, T. (2022). Public Awareness, Lifestyle and Low-Carbon City Transformation in China: A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability14(16), 10121.