“Joining forces to #BeatPollution”, a Sting Exclusive by the Head of UNEP in Brussels

Cap4dev image

Ulf Björnholm, Head of UNEP Brussels

Exclusively written for the Sting by Mr Ulf Björnholm, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Liaison Office to the EU institutions.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “pollution”? And what do you think can be done about it?

For me, I picture myself as a 10-year-old, somewhere in a clear-cut forest in mid-west Sweden in the 1980s. My family was demonstrating against pesticide spraying. However, unlikely as it may seem today, it was customary throughout the 1960s and 1970s to spray aggressive chemical herbicides from airplanes to kill off all deciduous trees. To stop this, courageous people positioned themselves in the middle of the clearing, dressed-up in colorful clothes to be visible from the sky. As the chemical was a direct health threat, the pilots were not allowed to spray if they saw people.

I vividly remember the mounting tension while waiting for the plane to show up. We would eventually hear a roar from afar and spot wings in the horizon, getting increasingly nervous that the pilots would not see us, or that they would break the rules and spray us anyway. We had brought umbrellas, just in case – not that it would help that much… Luckily, the pilots always turned back.

These protests turned out to be very successful. Not only did they temporarily stop the spraying, they also created significant media attention and spurred an intensive debate, leading to the banning of the chemical by the early 1980s. This was a crucial win for a growing environmental movement to advance environmental awareness and policy, something that is now mainstream in many countries. Today, everybody including the forestry industry agrees that killing deciduous trees is a really terrible idea – also economically.

There are many other inspirational stories. A few decades ago, forests in Europe were dying due to rainfall polluted by sulphur from power stations, industries and cars. Today, most young people have no idea what “acid rain” means. Many previously polluted water courses in Europe are again swimmable. At global level, substances depleting the ozone-layer, a part of the atmosphere that protects us from skin cancer, are almost entirely phased out.

Behind this progress lies tireless efforts by governments, international organizations, civil society movements and individuals, and a handful of cutting-edge companies, many of which are very profitable today.

However, much remains to be done to clean up our environment, in Europe and elsewhere. Pollution takes many forms – let me mention just a few examples, taken from our Towards a Pollution-free Planet report, issued in the run-up to the third Environment Assembly taking place next month on this topic.

Every year, more than 12 million people lose their lives due to environmental causes; at least 6 million from breathing dirty air. This represents 23% of all deaths globally.

Between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean annually – about one truckload per minute!

Over 80 per cent of the world’s wastewater is released into the environment without treatment, often causing severe disease, suffering and early deaths.

The 50 biggest active dump sites globally affect the lives of 64 million people – causing disease, poisoning, and allergies.

Pollution is about life and death for millions of people worldwide. Yet, pollution rarely hits the tabloids and twitter feeds, and it is certainly not at the top of the political agenda.

Outside the media spotlights, the UN has been working to solve the pollution challenge for decades. In just a few weeks, the global pollution threat will be raised to the highest political level when the world’s environmental leaders meet in Nairobi at the UN Environment Assembly. The EU is demonstrating leadership, by pushing for ambitious global decisions to be agreed at the Assembly, and by announcing 20 concrete EU-wide pollution commitments, complemented by a range of individual Member States’ pledges, and several European companies are showcasing effective pollution solutions.

But success will not only be measured by country and private sector action. As a representative of UN Environment in Brussels, I am often asked what individual citizens can do. As I see it, there are at least three complementary avenues to make a difference.

First, vote for politicians with a strong green agenda. Make your voice heard to influence politicians that are already in power. Call on our political leaders to commit at the UN Environment Assembly to #BeatPollution!

Second, “vote” with your money: choose natural, energy efficient and clean products and services – you will be supporting pioneering private companies to #BeatPollution.

Third, challenge yourself to use fewer resources: cut down on single use plastics, recycle your waste, use public transport and be energy efficient. And then, make it all official! On the Assembly website, you can join some 1.5 million other world citizens by signing your own pledge to #BeatPollution. It is empowering, thought-provoking and fun!

Together, we can clean up the planet. Let’s join forces to #BeatPollution!

About the author

Ulf Björnholm UNEP Brussels

Ulf Björnholm took up his duties as Head of the United Nations Environment Programme‘s Liaison Office to the EU Institutions on 22 April 2014.

Prior to joining UNEP, he served in the European Commission where he played a leading role in developing a proposal for a new EU Clean Air Policy, presented in 2013, and in international UN negotiations relating to air pollution.

Mr. Björnholm has also held several positions as a representative and diplomat for the Swedish Government, both in Stockholm and abroad. In his role as a political advisor and negotiator on international environmental affairs for Sweden, he chaired and represented the EU at several UN/EU environmental negotiations during two EU Presidencies – in New York (2001) and in Brussels (2009). For more than seven years, he served as Environment and Climate Counsellor at the Swedish Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels.

Ulf Björnholm has a Master of Science from the University of Lund.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

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

Migration and asylum: EU funds to promote integration and protect borders

The hidden risks nature loss poses for businesses

What we need for a better European Solidarity Corps

Threat from petty criminals who turn to terrorism, a growing concern, Security Council hears

Poland: €676 million worth of EU investments in better rails and roads

Progress made at COP25, despite lack of agreement to increase climate ambition

Tuesday’s Daily Brief: Bicycles for the environment, new leader for the UN General Assembly, UN values, Ebola, Syria and Libya

Will the three major parties retain control of the new EU Parliament?

The role companies play in boosting growth in emerging markets

The Catcher in the Rice

Medicine and mental health: relax, the doctor is a lifelong learner

The Commission tells Berlin it is legally obliged to help Eurozone out of stagnation

COVID-19 creates a perfect storm for the extreme weather season

Climate change and health: public health awareness in an international framework

More accessible products and services for disabled and elderly people

UN official sees ‘unprecedented opportunities’ to make progress on peace in Afghanistan

Why exchange programs are essential for the medical students of the 21st century

The opportunity of studying Medicine abroad

Erasmus+ 2021-2027: more people to experience learning exchanges in Europe

Kellen Europe Hosts EuroConference 2016

Change is happening – and young people are leading the way forward

Trust in OECD governments back at pre-crisis levels as governments seek to be more open and engaged

The banks dragged Eurozone down to fiscal abyss

The Sting’s Values

Earth already has a perfect recycling system. So why not use it?

My ‘’cultural’’ contacts with China

Brussels waits for the Germans to arrive

COP25: ‘Signals of hope’ multiplying in face of global climate crisis, insists UN chief Guterres

Russia – US in Syria: Selling Afrin to Turkey but facing off ruthlessly for Ghouta

Here’s what happened when a charity gave $1,000 each to poor households in Kenya

DR Congo: Insecurity and attacks mean Ebola will keep spreading, warns world health agency

Weather reports could soon be telling us about the role of climate change

The US reject EU proposal for prudential financial controls

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

Fuel crisis rapidly draining last ‘coping capacities’ of Palestinians in Gaza

Anti-vaccination scaremongering: What should we know about anti-vaccine argument?

‘Going green’ is good business says private sector at UN’s COP24 climate conference

Manufacturers Get Smarter for Industry 4.0

Eurozone cannot endure any longer youth marginalisation

Refugees now make up 1% of the world’s population

Quelling antimicrobial resistance: a clinico-pharmacological exigency

Open-plan offices make workers less collaborative, Harvard study finds

“InvestEU”: MEPs support new programme to boost financing for jobs and growth

We now know how much ice Antarctica has lost in the last 25 years – three trillion tonnes

Free movement of services: Commission takes further action to ensure a well-functioning Single Market for professionals

CEOs in these countries are more likely to go with their gut

Plans to keep EU budget funding in 2020 in the event of a no-deal Brexit

Working when sick is rising and harms you and your employer. This is why

Movius @ MWC14: Discussing novel Communications Applications over a “CAFÉ”

The global economy is woefully unprepared for biological threats. This is what we need to do

Inequality triggered protests across Latin America. Here’s how the youth can help

Here’s how business needs to change for a new decade

Parliament’s interparliamentary delegations established

These 4 trends are shaping the future of your job

8 top stories from the week in Davos 2020

Which countries get the most sleep – and how much do we really need?

World’s Press Calls on the United Kingdom to Address Press Freedom Concerns

How the finance industry can save the world

Migration Crisis: how to open the borders and make way for the uprooted

We can save our ocean in three steps – if we act now

More Stings?

Advertising

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