“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 Milestones

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

UN ‘determined to lead by example’ on disability rights: Guterres

Uzbekistan wins its long fight against malaria, as global rates continue to rise

The European Sting @ Mobile World Congress 2014, Creating What’s Next for the World. Can EU Policy follow?

Sri Lanka PM: This is how I will make my country rich by 2025

UK: Crawley group wins European Citizens’ Prize

Why is black plastic packaging so hard to recycle?

These 4 leaders are working to improve integration in Southeast Asia

EU4FairWork: Commission launches campaign to tackle undeclared work

New EU energy labels applicable from 1 March 2021

How to harness the energy of social innovators for an inclusive recovery

Brexit: No deal without marginalizing the hard Tory Eurosceptic MPs

EU Covid-19 Certificate: a European solution for free testing is needed

Outbreak of COVID-19: The third wave and the people

Drinking water: new plans to improve tap water quality and cut plastic litter

A better answer to the ventilator shortage as the pandemic rages on

New Mozambique storm rips off roofs, brings lashing rain as aid response kicks in

The hidden downside to ocean data and how to make it more sustainable

Two rhythms and a sharpened pencil: how art can help us heal and make sense of the world

Parliament supports European Green Deal and pushes for even higher ambitions

The European Union’s Balkan Double Standard

GSMA Reveals Global Partners for MWC21 Barelona

5 ways to be a better humanitarian

Further reforms needed for a stronger and more integrated Europe

Universal access to energy is a major challenge for the Arab world. Here’s why

Commission and Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU underline importance of the European Health Data Space

Energy of African youth ‘propelling’ new development era as UN ties bear fruit

Work Together to Build a New Type of International Relations and a Community with a Shared Future for Humanity

Deal agreed to protect consumers against misleading and unfair practices

Security Council urged to help spare Syrians from ‘devastation’

MWC 2016 LIVE: Getty chief says one in four new images from phones

Link between conflict and hunger worldwide, ‘all too persistent and deadly’, says new UN report

How a ‘fourth-sector economic strategy’ can help us build a better future for all

Amidst ‘high political tension’, UN chief appeals to G20 leaders for stronger commitment to climate action, economic cooperation

‘Think beyond farm jobs’ to reach sustainable development, UN agriculture chief advises African youth

UN rights experts call on Russia to release Ukrainian film-maker whose life is in ‘imminent danger’

Use “blockchain” model to cut small firms’ costs and empower citizens, urge MEPs

Antitrust: Commission provides guidance on allowing limited cooperation among businesses, especially for critical hospital medicines during the coronavirus outbreak

Gender Disparity in Medicine: Why and How Do We Close the Gap?

More than 100,000 people have recovered from COVID-19

Why is Merkel’s Germany so liberal with the refugees? Did the last elections change that?

Why cities hold the key to safe, orderly migration

How India will consume in 2030: 10 mega trends

Europe led by Germany seems vulnerable to Trump’s threats

Sustainable finance: Commission welcomes deal on an EU-wide classification system for sustainable investments (Taxonomy)

These are the 4 most likely scenarios for the future of energy

How do we go about improving mental health in the community and reducing suicide rates in the 15-29 age group?

Reception conditions for asylum-seekers agreed between MEPs and Council

Heart attacks and strokes are more common on high pollution days, data shows

Protecting migratory species in a rapidly changing world

China’s New Normal and Its Relevance to the EU

6 ways China and the United States could jumpstart trade reforms

GSMA Announces New Speakers for Mobile 360 Series – MENA, in association with The European Sting

Employers hold too much power over information. Workers must claim their data rights

New citizenship law in India ‘fundamentally discriminatory’: UN human rights office

Quality Education on the table at the European Parliament

The fight for female medical leadership

EU-China relations under investigation?

Thought AIs could never replace human imagination? Think again

Anti-Semitism ‘toxic to democracy’, UN expert warns, calling for better education

Beating cancer: Better protection of workers against cancer-causing chemicals

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