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

Featured Stings

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Kellen Europe Hosts EuroConference 2016

JADE @ European Business Summit 2014: Youth Unemployment – a drive to Entrepreneurship

Volkswagen getting away with it in Europe

3 reasons why AI won’t replace human translators… yet

Stigmatized, shunned and shamed, International Widows’ Day draws attention to their unique needs

Connected Claims returns to London in 2018

Philippe de Backer of ALDE at European Business Summit 2015 stresses: “Reinvent your business”

EU economy: Between recession and indiscernible growth

Parallel downfalls of Merkel and Deutsche Bank threaten Germany and Europe

Eurozone very close to a sustainable growth path

US, Russia oblige each other in Syria and Ukraine selling off allies

Draghi keeps the euro cheap, helps debt refinancing, recapitalization of banks and growth

Medschool 4.0: how to succeed in the smart revolution of healthcare

The Italian ‘no’ and France’s Fillon to reshape Europe; Paris moves closer to Berlin

80,000 youngsters at risk in DRC after forcible expulsion from Angola: UNICEF

Heat-resistant crops, ‘green’ infrastructure, can prepare Near East and North Africa to better tackle droughts – UN agency

European Commission requests that Italy presents a revised draft budgetary plan for 2019

Who cares more about taxpayers? The US by being harsh on major banks or the EU still caressing them?

Mobile 360 Series – Russia & CIS: Empowering the Digital Economy

Why are the Balkans’ political leaders meeting in Geneva this week?

Charges against Baha’i in Yemen must be dropped: UN experts urge release of detainees

High level political talks didn’t break the stalemate in Ukraine

Eurostat overturns Commission’s assessment of the economy

New rules for audiovisual media services approved by Parliament

French full-body veil ban, violated women’s freedom of religion: UN Human Rights Committee

European Youth calls on European Council for urgent action on “humanitarian crisis” and questions the EU/Turkey deal respect of human rights

It’s time to end our ‘separate but unequal’ approach to mental health

Armed groups threaten every child in Central African Republic, UNICEF warns

Are the G20 leaders ready to curb corporate tax-avoidance?

Will CETA be implemented after eight long years or it will be vetoed by the EU citizen?

Economic sentiment and business climate stagnate in miserable euro area

The Bavarians threaten Berlin and Brussels with immigration crisis

10 months were not enough for the EU to save the environment but 2 days are

Eurozone economy desperately needs internally driven growth

How can education empower youth to become tomorrow’s leaders

EU Parliament and Council: Close to agreement on the bank resolution mechanism

Virtual Doctor: a core part of modern healthcare?

Food supply chain: A step closer to ending unfair trading

UN chief calls for ‘solidarity, compassion and action’ on World Refugee Day

How to future-proof India’s economy

‘Unconscionable’ to kill aid workers, civilians: UN Emergency Coordinator

Will Brexit shatter the EU or is it still too early to predict?

“A global threat lies ahead worsened after the EU’s green light to the Bayer-Monsanto merger”, a Sting Exclusive by the President of Slow Food

IMF v Germany: Eurogroup keeps the fight under control

How will the EU face the migration crisis when the Turkish threats come true?

Parliament backs a modernised EU electoral law

How will EU look after French, Dutch and German Elections and what will be the implications for Youth Entrepreneurship?

European Youth, quo vadis?

‘Staunch support’ for Iran nuclear deal tempered by concern over missile testing

Indoor air pollution is deadly. Here’s an unconventional solution

The EU has to prove it can remain one piece

Pharmaceuticals conceal drug side effects with the EU’s Court blessing

Can we balance conservation and development? Science says yes

Commission proposes fishing opportunities in the Atlantic and North Sea for 2019

Eurogroup: IMF proposes Germany disposes

A Sting Exclusive: “Regulators and the shipping industry collaborating for a sustainable future”, written by the Secretary General of IMO

Global Talent – Professional Internships

8 amazing facts to help you understand China today

ECB should offer more and cheaper liquidity if Eurozone is to avoid recession

AIDEX 2015: Humanitarian Hero Award Winner Announced

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 )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )

Connecting to %s