“At the Environment Assembly citizens expect clean, not hot air”, the Head of UN Environment in Europe underscores in a Sting Exclusive

T2GE6.-7.9.2016 Bratislava

Mr Jan Dusik, UN Environment Europe’s Director and Regional Representative (UNEP, 2017)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr Jan Dusik, UN Environment Europe’s Director and Regional Representative. The opinions expressed in this article belong to the distinguished writer.

Last week’s fire at a waffle factory in Brussels luckily left no casualties behind. Yet the thick black smoke reminded people in the European Union’s capital how vulnerable we are to pollution.

Worldwide, the air breathed by nine out of ten people breaches World Health Organisation standards. People are now increasingly aware of the importance of air quality, which can often be seen and felt by citizens – especially city-dwellers.

Yet calls for action to protect our environment have often contributed to drastic political change.

In 1989, the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution was born from street protests of students against poor air quality. I was a 14-year old boy, living in the industrial city of Plzen (or Pilsen) where smog was present over much of that winter. Many of my generation have developed asthma and other long-term health problems from breathing bad air. Ever since those grey November days when I attended demonstrations demanding regime change, I have always strived for a better environment for all, through my years as an activist up to my current professional path.

In 1952, a ‘Great Smog’ caused by coal burning in London literally brought the city to a halt for days. This kicked off a public debate on the environment. A few years later, two clean air acts were passed switching parts of the city to smokeless fuels and moving power stations away from cities.

Public calls to better protect the environment were also one of the causes driving the independence movement in Moldova and have led to new political parties and other political shifts in our region.

Could we now be witnessing another wave of calls for change based on the need for environmental action?

Burning need for change

This wave could take place around the need to shift away from coal. The conditions have never been better to do so, and countries are beginning to take head.

At the latest round of climate negotiations, twenty countries and two US states pledged to ditch the coal they based their industrial development on. This will go a long way towards curbing sulphur dioxide and other harmful emissions.

Yet much remains to be done. People in the former Czech industrial powerhouse of Ostrava, as well as its neighbouring Katowice – where the next climate COP will be hosted – know this all too well. There, winter inversion, industrial pollution and local heating systems overly dependent on coal burning are causing respiratory diseases and other illnesses.

In order to raise awareness of the extent and effects of pollution, the availability of robust data is key.

UN Environment is supporting this in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the second deadliest country in the world for air pollution after North Korea – by installing new monitoring stations for example. Data is available in real-time online for citizens or government to gauge the success of policy measures. All kinds of actions can be taken, including by citizens and civil society – see the mobile phone app being developed by King’s College London, which allows people to select the least polluted route to walk or cycle for example.

UN Environment also stands by communities wanting to shift away from fossil fuels. Take the city of Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which we are helping shift from heavy oil to renewables, saving on fuel costs while slashing emissions.

Decision time

On 4-6 December, more than 2000 government, private sector and civil society leaders will meet to review gaps in how we protect people against pollution in different parts of the world. They will consider action that can be taken to breath cleaner air, to swim safely in rivers or to eat fish not full of plastics that we leave behind.

Success in the fight against pollution is everyone’s responsibility. Everyday choices – choosing how we get to work, whether to use plastic bags in a supermarket when shopping, or recycling waste we produce at home.

Ahead of the Assembly, more than two million people around the world have signed an online pledge to beat pollution. Now they call on leaders to take bold decisions on their behalf – for governments to set directions, for companies to drive green innovation, and for civil society to mobilise public action and ensure accountability.

Equally important will be how these commitments and pledges are followed up, starting from the day after the Assembly. Solutions do not take effect overnight, and we cannot afford this to be yet another international meeting ringing the alarm bell. We have the means, and a growing will, to turn the tide on plastic and breath cleaner air.

The lesson from history is that when citizens call for action on the environment, governments must act.

We have reached a crossroads where we can choose the right pathway for us and our children – the pathway that will enhance quality of life of people around the world.

About the author

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.

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

French Prime Minister passes Stability Program and takes his ‘café’ in Brussels this June

If people aren’t responding to climate warnings, we need to change the message

EU budget: Will Germany alone manage Britain’s gap?

No end to Deutsche Bank’s problems: new litigations in the US and frailty in EU stress test

African cities will double in population by 2050. Here are 4 ways to make sure they thrive

European Parliament approves more transparency and efficiency in its internal rules

UN mission welcomes Afghan government’s announcement of Eid holiday ceasefire

Cyprus tragedy reveals Eurozone’s arbitrary functioning

UN postal agency ‘regrets’ US withdrawal

VAT: EU Member States still losing almost €150 billion in revenues according to new figures

Victims’ Rights: New Strategy to empower victims

Poor diets may to be blame for 20cm height gaps among children, study says

Three ways batteries could power change in the world

Summer 2019 Economic Forecast: Growth clouded by external factors

Under-fives’ daily screen time should be kept to 60 minutes only, warns WHO

We must move from egocentric to ecocentric leadership to safeguard our planet

B-I-R-D: 4 digital technologies that can help supply chains take flight

EU Youth Conference concludes in Luxembourg with concrete plans on how to create real youth participation

Impressions of China

Why the answer to a more sustainable future could lie within the platform economy

‘We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers’: WHO chief

European Union and African Union sign partnership to scale up preparedness for health emergencies

The EU Commission fails to draw the right conclusions about corruption

Technology as an inclusion method while facing the COVID-19 pandemic: the “Coronavirus-SUS” app

Speech by President von der Leyen at the AmCham EU Transatlantic Conference 2021 “Global leadership: A transatlantic opportunity”

Migration and rule of law on next ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly agenda

Mankind’s first tool to fight malaria also kills

Can Eurozone’s uncertain growth answer the challenges that lie ahead?

This man is installing 100 trash barriers in Bali’s rivers to stop plastic pollution

“France will be there, it will always be there!”, French President Hollande says in a rather disorganised speech; the Sting reports live from World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

This is why mountains matter more than you think

‘A new chapter’ dawns for democracy in Guinea-Bissau: top UN official

Human rights ‘core to sustainable development’: deputy UN chief

It’s time to stop talking about ethics in AI and start doing it

Brexit talks started with a London handicap and Brussels’ sternness

EU officially launches its first naval mission against migrant smugglers

Europe plans to send satellites into space to monitor CO2 emissions

UN, world leaders, condemn Sri Lanka terrorist attacks targeting churches, hotels, which leave more than 200 dead

Predatory labour taxation not an issue for the Commission

Africa is facing a food crisis due to COVID-19. These seeds could help prevent it

UN chief calls for ‘a fair globalization’ with first-ever Global Goals Summit

Ebola in DR Congo: conflict zones could constitute ‘hiding places’ for the deadly virus – WHO chief

COVID-19: MEPs call for measures to close the digital gap in education

Statelessness for terrorists’ families, never an acceptable option, urges UN rights chief

The beginning of a revolution in healthcare

For Youth Rights: steps forward for better protection.

Statement on the Code of Practice against disinformation: Commission asks online platforms to provide more details on progress made

A Valentine’s Special: heart has nothing to do with it, it’s all Brain

MEPs debate Brexit and relations with China following EU spring summit

EU Budget: A Reform Support Programme and an Investment Stabilisation Function to strengthen Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union

3 innovations which are leading the fight to save our ocean

Approaching the challenges of COVID-19 vaccination

Chinese “BeiDou” GPS goes to market

For resilient, sustainable city mobility after COVID-19, these trends must continue

Team Europe partners with Equity Bank to support Kenyan business and agriculture amid COVID-19

5 reasons to protect mangrove forests for the future

TTIP update: postponed vote and INTA meeting shuffle cards again

Yanukovych attempts a violent and deadly cleansing of Kiev’s center

Donor countries need to reform development finance to meet 2030 pledge

Teenagers’ career expectations narrowing to limited range of jobs, OECD PISA report finds

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