The beginning of this New Year also marks the beginning of a new decade that is widely considered crucial for the future of human health and flourishing. With that in mind, it seems pertinent that we begin the year with a topic that we haven’t covered very explicitly yet, but that will undoubtedly play a central role in the development of an environmentally responsible physiotherapy. Though because we will most certainly be writing about the Sustainable Development Goals a lot more going forward, this first post is really just meant to be an introductory pointer to this important field for present and future physiotherapy.
Adopted in 2015 by all United Nations Member States, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is boldly set up as ‘a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future’ (UN, 2015). At the core of the UN 2030 Agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which together represent the largest international, intergovernmental initiative for addressing the crises of our time. As ‘an urgent call to action’ and a blueprint for doing so, a key foundational aspect of the SDGs is the recognition ‘that ending poverty and other deprivations mist go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests’ (UN, 2015).
As is clearly stated in the Agenda and the extensive literature surrounding it, ‘the implementation of the Agenda requires strong commitment and accountability’ from all sectors of society (Engebretsen, Heggen, & Ottersen, 2017) and the ‘mobilisation of all available resources…participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people’, including the UN system, public and international finance, the private sector, civil society, academia, philanthropic organisations, volunteer groups, and all professions (UN, 2015).
Filip Maric (PhD)
PT, EPA Founder
Filip Maric is a physiotherapist and researcher interested in the outer rims of healthcare and physiotherapy, practical philosophy, ethics, #EnviroPT, planetary health and sea kayaking.
Now, while increasingly broad sectors of society have taken up the SDGs and begun thinking about how they might contribute to the immense global effort that they represent, physiotherapy has been a little slow to join the party so far. The reality of it is, however, that this is going to change drastically now and I would even go as far as saying that there won’t be a single physiotherapist around the world whose professional work and thinking will not be touched by the SDGs in one way or another over the next few years, whether this be in clinical practice, research, education, or professional organisation and governance.
Across the profession, there are also some first and clear signs that the SDGs are having an impact on the profession and thinking and acting on them is increasingly being called for. For one, universities across the world are called to integrate and implement SDG relevant changes to their governance and education programs and so inevitably, this is increasingly trickling both up from and down into physiotherapy programs. But a very sure sign is also the fact that the SDGs are close to the top of the list of topics featured in the WCPT Dubai 2021 congress call for focussed symposia and, I suspect, will likely also have a similar place in later calls for other contributions. It will be interesting to see what will come out of this, what physiotherapists are already doing in relation to the SDGs and what further novel ideas and approaches will emerge in the meantime.
Because of the way that they SGDs at least try to approach today’s humanitarian and environmental crises in an ‘integrated and indivisible’ they are also crucial to the development of any kind of environmental physiotherapy or, simply, the advancement of environmental awareness and responsibility in physiotherapy (UN, 2015). In the same sense, advancing environmental responsibility in physiotherapy also constitutes an SDG action in that it inherently necessitates connecting the dots between human health and function, environmental integrity, and the historical, social, cultural, economic, and political dimensions of the human-environment nexus.
All of this is not to say that the SDGs are perfect and beyond reproach just as they are. On the contrary, there are problems on all levels, from the conceptual through all layers of implementation. Take for example the fact that the term ‘sustainability’ is still a centrepiece of the SDGs and much of today’s public debate on how to address climate change and environmental degradation, yet it coexists next to a good two decades of research and critique highlighting how and why it is deeply problematic that is far less widely known and used than the term itself.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t get involved, work with and contribute to achieving the SDGs as best as we can. The beginning of this years definitely marks the beginning of a crucial decade for human health and flourishing in that 2030 marks a critical point in time before which we have to seek to keep global warming under the critical threshold of 1.5degrees Celsius to avoid far worse impacts on human health and flourishing than those already in effect now.
At the beginning of this ‘decade of delivery on the SDGs’ we undoubtedly have to quickly pick it up a notch and see what they can contribute. Given that we are rather new to the party, we might be in a particularly good place to take the twofold approach to the SDGs that is likely needed from the very get-go: One the one hand, adopt, implement and contribute as best as we can, on the other, remain open and critical and seek to improve on the problems we identify.
If you are seeking to do some academic reading this year to be and stay up-to-date with development in the profession, you would be well advised to familiarise yourself with the basic literature linked throughout this post and throw some reading on the SDGs in the mix with your usual treatment methods, pain science, etc. readings. And should you be someone already exploring and implementing SDGs in your PT related work, whether student, clinician, researcher, or educator, please get in touch with us and let us know. We would love to hear of the approaches you are taking and ideally feature some on our blog here.
“the term ‘sustainability’ is still a centrepiece of the SDGs … yet it coexists next to a good two decades of research and critique highlighting how and why it is deeply problematic that is far less widely known”