A Sting Exclusive: why the environment is important to your health, by UNEP’s Head for Europe

un-sustainable-development-goals

UNSDSN (2016)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting  by Mr Jan Dusik, UN Environment Europe’s Director and Regional Representative.

On the afternoon of 23rd of December last year, bells rang to mark the end of term in schools across Sarajevo one week earlier than usual.  However, this was not due to an early New Year celebration.

The air in Sarajevo had that day become so drenched in smog – a toxic mix of fog and smoke particles – that the city faced an immediate health threat. Pollution levels had soared to twice their normal range and at one point many times more. Local authorities were even calling on people to avoid going outside during peak pollution times.

These municipalities have now decided to work with UN Environment to green their district heating systems – one of the biggest sources of emissions in the country. Scores of white flags have also been raised outside classrooms which will gauge the impact of such moves by changing colour in line with air pollution levels.

At least 44,000 years of life are estimated to be lost in Bosnia and Herzegovina each year[i] due to dirty air – both indoors and outdoors. In 2012 alone, over 500,000 premature deaths in the region were attributable to ambient air quality and 100,000 to indoor air quality[ii]. Dip into UN Environment’s latest Global Environment Outlook report for the pan-European region and you quickly learn that poor air quality is now the number one cause of premature deaths there. It contributes to heart disease and strokes and is a greater factor in causing lung cancer than second-hand smoke, according to the World Health Organisation[iii].

The latest estimate from scientific literature is that 23% of all annual deaths worldwide are linked to environmental degradation[iv]. The environment is therefore – at least in part – key to responding to these health problems.

How to make a difference

Solutions to environment and health challenges require high-level political commitment. Pledges on clean air and Green Economy made by our region’s environment ministers in Batumi this year are exciting in this regard. Yet solutions can also be introduced on our streets and in our homes. In this way, we can all contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Take one of our basic needs – food. Of course, health partly stems from good nutrition. Yet acidification and ozone concentrations have reduced potential wood and crop production in the region by up to 15%[v]. UN Environment supports organic farmers, including by helping them meet potential international buyers. One of our studies has demonstrated that in Moldova for example, when farmer earnings are included, economic gains from organic agriculture could immediately trump those from conventional farming even if crop yields are 20% lower. This is thanks to improved soil quality and higher market premiums, among other factors. Consumers can then choose to serve organic at the dinner table.

Consider another of our vital needs – shelter. Our homes and unfortunately lives are increasingly threatened by extreme weather linked to climate change, such as the 2003 heat wave that killed over 70,000 people, or the 337 floods that affected over seven million people in our region between 2000 and 2014[vi]. Intriguingly, many people in Europe are most exposed to air pollution when indoors, where we spend about 85% of our time. A UK study has demonstrated how our stress hormone cortisol decreases when we live close to green spaces[vii]. By making room for these in our cities and towns, and planting ‘green roofs’ and ‘living walls’ on our buildings for example, we can cut stress and the health problems it exacerbates. This is especially pertinent given that up to 80% of Europeans are predicted to live in urban areas by 2030[viii].

Meanwhile, large differences persist in the pan-European region on our most vital need – access to clean drinking water. Some 38% of the rural population in Central Europe does not have access to it. Measures to curb climate change can help, as extreme weather events combined with seasonally changed precipitation patterns may complicate achieving good ecological status for water bodies in Europe. Extreme weather also steals nutrients from rivers, increasing exposure of people and fauna to toxic chemicals[ix].

All about coherence

The health of people and our planet go hand-in-hand. Citizens can see and feel pollution particles in their lungs and eyes – it’s not a vague concept buried in reports. As a result, environmental hazards are becoming a leading cause of protest worldwide, calling policymakers into action.

More than half of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2015-2030 now have an environmental focus. By working towards these, policy responses to clean our energy, food and cities can also solve some of the world’s biggest health challenges. For this we need political will, dialogue between ministries and healthy consumption choices.

Each year, work towards the Global Goals will focus on specific topics. In 2017 one of those will be health. There is no better time to roll up our sleeves and step-up work on this from an environmental angle, for the next school term in Sarajevo and beyond.

[i] European Environment Agency, Air quality in Europe report, 2015, p.43

[ii] UN Environment’s Sixth Global Environment Outlook for the pan-European region, p.36

[iii] Quote by Kurt Straif, Head of World Health Organisation cancer agency IARC, Associated Press 2013

[iv] Healthy Environment, Healthy People, UN Environment, 2016, p.4

[v] UNECE 2015, quoted in UN Environment’s Sixth Global Environment Outlook for the pan-European region, p.36

[vi] UN Environment’s Sixth Global Environment Outlook for the pan-European region, p.32

[vii] UN Environment’s Sixth Global Environment Outlook for the pan-European region, p.133, 284

[viii] UNDESA, 2011, quoted in UN Environment’s Sixth Global Environment Outlook for the pan-European region, p.41

[ix] Boxall et al 2009, Billen et al 2011, Störmer 2011; UN Environment’s Sixth Global Environment Outlook for the pan-European region, p.106

About the author

unep-photo_jan_dusik_1

Mr Jan Dusik, UNEP, 2016

Born in 1975, in Czech Republic, Jan graduated from the Law School of the Charles University in Prague (Master of Law 1998, Doctor of Law 2001). In 2002, he received a M.Sc. in Environmental Change and Management from the University of Oxford.

Between 1998-2009, he worked in the Ministry of Environment of the Czech Republic, where he was elected Minister in 2009.

Jan also served as the Vice-President of the Bureau of the UN Environment Governing Council in 2007-2009.

Jan joined UN Environment in 2011. By 2014, he was confirmed as UN Environment Europe’s Director and Regional Representative.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Featured Stings

A voice from Syria: the positive prospect of clinical research despite the excruciating circumstances

The EU Commission does nothing about the food retailing oligopoly

EU readies for eventual annulment of the Turkish agreement on immigrants-refugees

Can We(esterners) ever understand (the) Chinese

The EU Parliament slams Commission on economic governance

Juncker Investment Plan for Europe welcomed by European Youth Forum

Spirit unlimited

Switzerland to introduce strict restrictions on executive pay

The 13th round of TTIP negotiations hits a wall of intense protests and growing concerns

Refugee crisis update: EU still lacks solidarity as Hungary and Slovakia refuse to accept EU Court’s decision

The battle for the 2016 EU Budget to shake the Union; Commission and Parliament vs. Germany

Trailing the US-EU economic confrontation

Is it true that the G20 wants to arrest tax evasion of multinationals?

Conflicting statistics and bad banks haunt the Eurozone

The EU risks trade relations with China over the Tata hype about steel

The European Parliament x-rays the troika’s doings

How ‘small’ is Europe in Big Data?

Has the EU economy truly revived from the financial crisis?

Jo Cox’s murderer believed the ‘leave’ campaign leaders that the ‘remain’ vote is treason

A Sting Exclusive: “The challenge of Society’s digital transformation”, Spanish Minister of Spain for Industry, Energy and Tourism José Manuel Soria live from European Business Summit 2015

Vĕra Jourová, European Commissioner in charge of Justice

The New EU-US “Shield” for data privacy is full of holes

MWC 2016 LIVE: Mobile Connect availability hits 2B

Long live Eurozone’s bank supervisor down with the EU budget supremo

Poverty and social exclusion skyrocket with austerity

The EU threatens to impose extra import duties on Chinese products

Court of Auditors: EU spending infested with errors well above the materiality threshold of 2%

Inegalitarian taxation on labour haunts Europe’s social model

New round of bargaining for the 2014 EU budget late in autumn

What are the real targets of EU’s efforts to fight tax evasion?

Does the Greek deal strengthen the Eurozone? Markets react cautiously

A new European banking space is born this year

The ECB still protects the banks at the expense of the EU taxpayers

Russia and the EU ‘trade’ natural gas supplies and commercial concessions in and out of Ukraine

The EU responds to US challenges by fining Apple with €13 billion

The EU Commission openly repudiates the austere economic policies

EU and African leaders to jointly tackle the migration crisis across the Mediterranean

Eurozone: A Sluggish economy offers no extra jobs

EU: 13 major banks may pay fines 10% of worldwide turnover

Eurozone: The crisis hit countries are again subsidizing the German and French banks

European Business Summit 2013: Where Business and Politics shape the future

The Chinese spirit

Trade protectionism and cartels threaten democracy

The G7 fails to agree on growth but protects the big banks

The European Internet is not neutral and neither is the Commissioner

“Is Europe innovative? Oh, Yes we are very innovative!”, Director General of the European Commission Mr Robert-Jan Smits on another Sting Exclusive

A Sting Exclusive: “Sustainable development goals: what role for business?” Commissioner Mimica asks live from European Business Summit 2015

Theresa May’s global Britain against Philip Hammond’s Brexit fog

Resolving banks with depositors’ money?

The time is up but the game is still not over for Greece: negotiations continue in anticipation of a new deal

Solitary Britain sides with US aggressing Russia and chooses hard Brexit

Auditors say EU spending delivers limited value for money but the timing of their report poses questions

On Brexit: the outcome of UK elections next May to be based on false promises?

COP21 Breaking News_03 December: UNFCCC Secretariat Launches Forest Information Hub

War of words in Davos over Eurozone’s inflation/deflation

Businesses succeed internationally

EU out to conquer African Union summit

Why and how Germany had it again its own way in Cyprus

The European Youth raises their voices this week in Brussels at Yo!Fest 2015

JADE Handover Ceremony at the European Parliement

EU Parliament: Follow the fraudulent money and confiscate it

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s