By 2030, doughnuts will be good for our health and wellbeing

Published: 2 May 2022
Climate change is the biggest threat to health in the 21st century. Source: World Health Organisation.

In Victoria, we’ve become very familiar with doughnuts during the pandemic. Remember cheering doughnut days on the news? As we look to 2030, doughnuts will again be on the menu as sustainability becomes synonymous with our health.

Achieving these ‘doughnuts’ – or zeros in carbon emissions and waste – will be critical to our health and wellbeing as the world tackles climate change.

The health benefits of certain sustainability solutions are no secret. Despite this, it’s still common to associate sustainability with only environmental benefits.

Consider something as simple as riding your bike to work. Not only are you reducing emissions – and therefore pollution – but as you turn the pedals, you’re also increasing your fitness and boosting your mood.

It’s a clear double benefit you receive –your sustainable transport is also boosting your physical and mental health. And, despite your ride to work seeming like a small act in the scheme of things, imagine if we all tried to link our health to environmentally friendly choices as we look to a more sustainable future.

This idea of dual benefit isn’t revolutionary, and the association between sustainability and health is already a global topic of conversation. Our strategic foresight think tank, the SVLab, is observing a trend that indicates the connection between sustainability and health will become even more prominent over the next decade.

Victorians, along with the rest of the world, are increasingly realising that the health of humanity, environment and economy is inextricably linked.

Climate change accelerates the trend

The effects of climate change and overconsumption are shining a spotlight on the connection between sustainability, the environment and health, making achievement of those “doughnuts” of zero waste and emissions more appetising – and more urgent – than ever before.

The Annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) calls on world leaders to take a more radical role in addressing global warming, gaining the attention of the world’s media in the process.

Then there’s the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change adopted in 2015. But between the signing of this treaty, and COP26 (held most recently in Glasgow) the widely referenced Circularity Gap Report 2022 highlighted that the global economy consumed 70 percent more than the world can safely replenish – a red alert for humanity to reconsider our relationship with the environment and its resources to ensure our future wellbeing.

In Australia, we’ve already grappled with tangible effects of climate change on our health. For example, the Black Summer bushfires resulted in hazardous air quality that saw Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra each experience periods of the worst air quality in the world.

In November 2019, the global bank HSBC predicted the impacts of climate change in countries like Australia will result in a five-fold increase in the cost of public health - costs are expected to reach almost US$10 trillion (A$14.5 trillion) a year by 2050.

Did you know 30% of emissions come from burning coal for electricity, and a key contributor to air pollution, 36% increase forecast in heatwave intensity in Australia in the next 20 years, 1.0 Celsius the increase in Victoria's climate since 1910.

How do we balance both the needs of people and the planet?

The World Health Organization describes climate change as the greatest threat to global health this century.

So how do we forge a path ahead as a global community, knowing that sustainability will be one with health and wellbeing? How do we balance the health of humanity, environment and economy all at once?

The Circularity Gap Report explains that by reducing emissions and keeping our materials in use for longer as part of a circular economy, we can achieve an ecologically safe and socially just place for all.

It suggests that countries are particularly well positioned to tackle the widening circularity gap and calls on governments to establish national roadmaps for circularity, which can make their economies more competitive while also improving living conditions and helping to meet emissions targets. The report identifies different strategies for different countries, based on the living standards of their population and their ecological footprint.

It’s one of a variety of approaches we’re seeing around the world.

The Doughnut Economics model (yes - another doughnut!) now forms the starting point for all public policy in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

In short, and without sending you off to read academic papers, this concept proposes that a socially just and ecologically safe place is achieved when we address all our basic human needs (including health and wellbeing) within the planetary boundaries that sustain human life (such as climate change). And by doing so we’re setting ourselves up for the best chance at keeping the planet on a 1.5 degree (or even 2 degree) global warming trajectory.

Connecting health and sustainability at home

Closer to home, we’re also seeing the emergence of programs delivering both health and environmental benefits. The Victorian Government’s Healthy Homes program provided free home energy upgrades to vulnerable Victorians who live with complex healthcare needs, while the Victorian Energy Upgrades program helps Victorians reduce their energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions by providing access to discounted, energy efficient products and services.

Not only are these programs supporting Victoria’s transition to net zero emissions by 2050, but it’s also creating healthier, warmer, and cheaper living conditions for vulnerable Victorians. An efficient home is a healthier and more comfortable home.

>> Read more about Victoria's Healthy Homes programs.

As we ramp up action under the Victorian Government’s Climate Change Strategy and Circular Economy Plan, we’ll continue to explore how we can simultaneously care for our health and the environment.

And, as we see growing recognition of the connection between health and sustainability on the world stage, our appetite to achieve those zero ‘doughnuts’ in emissions will only increase – more and more, we’ll understand the dire consequences on human health if they’re off the menu.

Future trends

SV is looking to the future of sustainability in Victoria. We’re unpacking the future trends that matter and spotlighting key opportunities for innovation and investment as we look to a future defined by our transition to a circular, climate-resilient economy.

Learn about 4 more future trends that will shape Victoria’s climate resilient economy by 2030.