Challenges in Creating Planetary Health Student Organizations: A case study exploration of planetary health campus programs


Planetary Health endeavors to broaden humanity’s understanding of the link between human health and the planet’s natural systems. However, many people have yet to understand what Planetary Health is. In an effort to increase planetary health awareness among the next generation of global leaders, the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) introduced the Planetary Health Campus Ambassador (PHCA) program in 2019, an annual global peer leadership program that prepares motivated students at higher education institutions to share planetary health awareness within their communities. In the past four years, the program has fostered more than 160 PHCAs from over 36 countries. The program’s reach has been growing, but at varying rates around the world in part due to a variety of challenges faced at the regional level. These include challenges of forming a campus or community based planetary health club due to institutions’ funding restrictions, lack of interest, and low awareness about planetary health. Of all surveyed ambassadors in this case study, 43% faced organizational obstacles when trying to create an on-campus student club, and 71% faced difficulties incorporating planetary health awareness into their local communities due to lack of understanding.90% of survey respondents agreed that the PHCA program is well-designed and improves their leadership skills, but many recommend the program be extended to two years, include more mentorship training and resource materials on planetary health, and incorporate more regional breakdowns to enhance coordination and outreach activities among PHCAs.


As our climate changes, human understanding of the planet evolves in search for sustainable solutions. From the Holocene to the Anthropocene, nature has continued to lose its balance, so as humanity strives to remain healthy, by focusing on Public health to Global Health, One Health and now Planetary Health. At each of these transitions, man has fallen short of finding an all-inclusive solution. As it is defined, Planetary Health is a multidisciplinary approach seeking long-term solutions to human induced environmental challenges that enhances sustainable development through human well-being and the planet’s natural systems (Myers, 2017).

Results and Discussions

A survey completed by 20% of the current PHCA cohort from different universities around the globe showed that many PHCAs (57.1%) heard about the PHCA program through their colleagues, with a few others learning about it via online postings, university lecturers, and their broader community. The program has spread globally since its inception in 2019, with the USA, Nigeria, Brazil providing the highest total numbers of ambassadors (Figure 2.)


The Planetary Health Campus Ambassador (PHCAs) program is an enriching program full of leadership opportunities, training, and educational offerings designed to help students understand multidisciplinary approaches that address the intersections between human well-being and the natural systems. It prepares next generation leaders to engage parties from different stakeholders to interchange unified efforts in tackling planetary health related issues. However, instituting Planetary Health Clubs and activities in already established higher education institutions is a remarkably slow task due to challenges of conflict of interest, novelty of the program to many academics, and bureaucracy. Therefore, founding PH regional incubation, resource centers, and swift focus with minimal support to include community-based planetary health ambassadors (COPHA) will increase PH awareness, education, and actions particularly in developing countries.



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Planetary Health Alliance

Planetary Health Alliance


Generating better understanding of the links between accelerating global environmental change and human health to support policy making and public education