“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.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

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

Human rights: breaches in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan

“An open China brings opportunities to Europe”, a Sting Exclusive by China’s Ambassador to EU

Security Council unanimously agrees to extend UN Cyprus Mission amid political impasse

Brexit: UK to suffer from EU’s uncompromising stance

How Cameron unwillingly helped Eurozone reunite; the long-term repercussions of two European Council decisions

Parliament to ask for the suspension of EU-US deal on bank data

Security Council extends mandate of UN Interim Force in Lebanon for a year

The scary EU elections result and the delayed Council’s repentance

COP21 Breaking News_09 December: The Draft Agreement Updated

Inflation keeps falling in Eurozone

Why Italy will not follow the Greek road; Eurozone to change or unravel

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

Here’s how to build energy infrastructures fit for the future

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

Rising insecurity in Central Africa Republic threatens wider region, Security Council told

New EU rules cut red tape for citizens living or working in another Member State as of tomorrow

Moves to create a Kosovo army have ‘deteriorated relations’ with Serbia: UN peacekeeping chief

Chart of the day: This is how many animals we eat each year

Ethiopia is Africa’s fastest-growing economy

G20 World Exclusive Interview: “The world, especially emerging economies and developing countries, require a more sustainable and quality development”, the Spokesperson of Japan underscores live from Antalya Turkey

How ‘small’ is Europe in Big Data?

Indonesia: Psychological impact on earthquake survivors turns villages into ‘ghost towns’

JADE Testimonial #1: Marcello @ Enlargement

IMF: The near-term outlook for the U.S. economy is one of strong growth and job creation

At G20 Summit OECD’s Gurría says collective action vital to tackle global challenges

First-ever EU defence industry fund to finance joint development of capabilities

Terrorists potentially target millions in makeshift biological weapons ‘laboratories’, UN forum hears

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

Parliamentary bid to democratize Myanmar constitution a ‘positive development’ says UN rights expert

The Banking Union may lead to a Germanic Europe

G20 LIVE: G20 Statement on the fight against terrorism

Amazon indigenous groups want to create a nature sanctuary the size of Mexico

European Junior Enterprise Network – Ready to take the Step Into the Future?

UN rights chief welcomes new text to protect rights of peasants and other rural workers

Back to the basics for the EU: Investment equals Growth

Conflicts and extreme climate change threatens access to food in 39 countries – UN agriculture report

Data capture, not disclosure, is the way to meet our climate goals

Germany not famous for easy way outs from political stalemates

Why South Africa is on a path of economic renewal

Agreement reached on new EU Solidarity Corps

West Bank: ‘imminent’ demolition of Palestinian village could be ‘war crime’ – ICC Prosecutor

Britain declares trade war on mainland Europe

A refugee from Syria cries out: “I’m not just a number!”

In Gaza, UN envoy urges Israel, Palestinian factions to step back from brink of a war that ‘everybody will lose’

A Sting Exclusive: EU Commissioner Mimica looks at how the private sector can better deliver for international development

Ambassador Zhang Ming: “Work Together for a Better Globalization”

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

IMF launches a new offensive against Germany

A multipolar world brings back the national champions

Adjust UN force in Abyei to current realities, peacekeeping chief urges Security Council

Reinforcing EU border security: Visa-exempt travelers will be pre-screened

Charles Michel advocates a strong Europe that acts where it can add real value

As inequality grows, the UN fights for a fairer world

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “It is the implementation, Stupid!”, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble points the finger to Greece from Davos

Sustainability is now mission critical for businesses. Here’s why

12 ways the tech sector can help save the climate in 12 years

Quality Education on the table at the European Parliament

Commission publishes the first report on the issuance of a Eurobond

Why growth is now a one way road for Eurozone

A day in the life of a Rohingya refugee

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