Urban Health and Wellbeing in the Anthropocene

The 2021-2025 interdisciplinary science-action plan from the Urban Health and Wellbeing Programme takes a systems view of cities as the loci of solutions for healthy people and a healthy planet.

Walking in Suzhou, China

On Thursday 11 November, COP26 will focus on the theme ‘cities, regions and built environments’ with a number of special events focusing on what cities can contribute to developing and implementing solutions to climate change. 

As home to the majority of the world’s population – and the nodal points of a global network of energy, information and resource flows – cities have a major impact on global climate. Cities currently generate more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and embody a great deal of carbon in the construction and maintenance of buildings and infrastructure. The health of cities is key for a climate-resilient planet and health is at the heart of sustainable development.

Health is a transdisciplinary, cross-sectoral and unifying measure for people and the planet, required to secure the climate goals and actions expressed at the COP26 of global net zero, adapting and protecting communities and natural habitats, mobilizing finance and accelerating collaboration for the goals.   

In order to respond to these challenges, a new science-action plan for urban health and wellbeing published by the Urban Health and Wellbeing programme (UHWB) takes a systems approach, to focus on how cities can create conditions for healthy people and for a healthy planet, providing  guidance for transformations to a climate resilient and sustainable future. 

Published ten years after the establishment of the Urban Health and Wellbeing programme (UHWB), the science plan for 2021 to 2025 is an important milestone for the programme.  

“Planetary health and the earth’s life support systems, which are the foundation for human health and wellbeing, are increasingly under stress […] The Plan encourages innovative policy experiments, both planned and ‘natural’. In the context of the urgent necessity to reach zero carbon by 2050, these innovations can help to promote case studies of policies and practice, that not only improve the wider environment, but also the health and wellbeing of urban dwellers. Our efforts have been directed at identifying the dynamics of the social, economic and environmental factors affecting the health and wellbeing of urban populations,”

Philippa Howden-Chapman, Chair of the Scientific Committee of the Urban Health and Wellbeing programme, writing in the introduction to the plan. 

Examples of the factors for consideration include population density and potential for building upwards rather than outwards, with cities that incorporate lots of urban green space. Clean transport in cities is another key requirement, with fossil fuel-powered vehicles being phased out in favour of electric transport, and safe, easy opportunities for walking and cycling urgently needed. 

These examples illustrate how ‘by working together, we can reduce urban carbon and improve people’s health and wellbeing’, say Franz W. Gatzweiler, Executive Director of the UHWB programme, and Philippa Howden-Chapman. 


Urban Health and Wellbeing in the Anthropocene

An Interdisciplinary Science-Action Plan for Urban Health and Wellbeing in an Age of Complexity and Systemic Risks (2021 – 2025)


You might also be interested in: 

Global Scientists on COP 26: Meeting 1.5°C Climate Goal Challenging 

An interview with Philippa Howden-Chapman and Franz W. Gatzweiler, as well as Zhu Yongguan, Science Director of the Institute of Urban Environment at the Chinese Academy of Sciences; and Carlos Dora, President of International Society for Urban Health (ISUH) and Former Coordinator of Public Health and Environment Department of World Health Organization for China Global Television Network. This interview was conducted on the sidelines of the Conference on Urban Health and Wellbeing (UHWB), hosted by the Institute of Urban Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences and published on 7 November 2021.  


Photo by Alien system on Unsplash.

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