“Beating pollution for our planet”, a Sting Exclusive by Mr Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment

Erik Solheim UN Environment Executive Director

Mr Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of United Nations Environment (UN Environment, 2017)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment. The opinions expressed in this article belong to the distinguished writer.

Some may once have seen fighting pollution as a sacrifice made against improving the quality of our lives. The reality could hardly be further from the truth.

Nearly one in four deaths worldwide are currently caused by environmental degradation. In Europe, air pollution is now the biggest killer related to the environment.

Commitments made at the third UN Environment Assembly this week to clean our air, land and water can therefore improve the lives of billions and contribute to achieving the Global Goals.

Ahead of the Assembly, nearly 2.5 million citizens demanded action and issued pledges to beat pollution. In response, 215 governments, 95 civil society organisations and 23 businesses made commitments of their own this week.

These range from pledges to step-up efforts to prevent marine litter and microplastics, reduce air pollution, mitigate pollution in areas affected by armed conflict and boost work to achieve the sustainable management of chemicals and waste.

If we can deliver on the commitments made at the Assembly, 30% of the world’s coastline will be clean.

Eight million tons of plastic currently enters our oceans every year. A plastic bottle dumped in the Mediterranean Sea can end up scarring the Arctic within two years.

Yet plastic waste is essentially an economic problem. Some 40% of used plastic currently goes to landfill, when it could serve countless other uses.

I therefore welcome the European Union’s plan for a circular economy, among the 20 pledges it submitted. By breaking linear economic thinking, the plan can ensure recycling is profitable and normal and inspire other economies worldwide.

At the Assembly, Chile, Oman, South Africa and Sri Lanka were among countries joining our Clean Seas campaign, which looks to fight the root causes of plastic pollution through tools such as legislation and awareness raising. Sri Lanka will from 1 January be among countries banning single-use plastics. The World Plastics Council will meanwhile work with business to raise $150 million to finance solutions to ocean plastic.

Such actions can help achieve Global Goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production and Goal 14 on life below water, among others.

If we can deliver on the commitments made, 1.47 billion people will breathe clean air.

Poor air quality kills 6.5 million people each year by causing respiratory and heart diseases.

Yet by establishing ambitious air pollution standards and improving its monitoring, fighting air pollution at source including through fuel standards and expanding use of clean fuels for cooking, we will create new economic opportunities while saving lives.

Regions in countries such as Italy, Spain, Senegal, Argentina, Mexico and others joined our Breathe Life campaign and will promote renewable energy and clean transport and improve waste management for example. Thanks to civil society, Morocco will meanwhile see fleets of electric scooters hit the road for the first time, while air quality monitoring will begin in Western Kenya, where it is currently practically inexistent.

In this way, we will contribute to achieving Global Goal 3 on good health and wellbeing, among others.

If we can deliver on the commitments made, USD 18.6 billion will be invested in research and innovation

This includes investment in waste management, recycling and clean power from governments, the private sector and civil society. The Netherlands is meanwhile among countries that will speed up the transition to a circular economy by phasing out harmful subsidies.

Yet after the ink has dried and ceremony ends, what comes next?

To ensure the Assembly goes down in history, we must put pressure on companies to turn their business models around and end waste. The fight against pollution is an opportunity –this is why Dell computers is using recovered ocean plastic as part of its packaging for example, while other firms aim to use fully recyclable plastic where possible.

Second, we must speed up the shift to solar power and electricity. The plummeting price of solar technology and the potential for creating jobs from means that this can happen much faster than we may think.

Third, we must improve how we plan our cities. Poor spatial planning is one of the culprits making air pollution worse.

Finally, we must act on chemicals. Under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, we aim to achieve the sustainable management of chemicals and waste by 2020.

History teaches us that we all have an important role to play in the fight to beat pollution.

It was civil society groups that first brought the world’s attention to the dangers of mercury pollution, and pushed for policy measures to address it through the Zero Mercury campaign. Fast forward just over a decade and the first international treaty to curb use of the heavy metal since entered into force this summer.

Meanwhile, only a handful of scientists were using the Dobson meter – barely bigger than a coffin – when damage to the ozone layer was first confirmed. Yet this triggered global action and we have since phased out virtually all ozone-harming chemicals under the Montreal Protocol.

The Environment Assembly has only achieved part of its aims so far.

What we must now do is continue to demonstrate how beating pollution is in the interests of not only the environment but also our health, security and economies – and we all have a role to play.

Over 4,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials, civil society representatives, activists and celebrities gathered for the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi this week.

Discover the 13 resolutions issued by the world’s highest-level decision making body on the environment here.

Read on the challenges posed by pollution, current efforts to address it and 50 recommendations to tackle it further in the Towards a pollution-free plant report here.

About the author

Mr Erik Solheim was elected to become Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on May 13, 2016. Prior to joining UNEP, Mr Solheim was the chair of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). From 2007 to 2012, he held the combined portfolio of Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development, and from 2005 to 2007 served as Minister of International Development. Mr Solheim is also an experienced peace negotiator, having acted as the main facilitator of the peace process in Sri Lanka from 1998 to 2005. In addition to his career as a Minister and at the OECD, he has served as UNEP’s Special Envoy for Environment, Conflict and Disaster since 2013 and a Patron of Nature for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2012. Erik holds a degree in history and social studies from the University of Oslo. He is married with four children.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Featured Stings

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

To all far-right partisans who exploit Charlie Hebdo atrocity: a peaceful reply given by a peaceful student

EU Youth Goals – we are shapers not listeners

Christine Lagarde: This is what we can still learn from the Great War

Hungary has made progress on greening its economy and now needs to raise its ambitions

Here’s how we get businesses to harmonize on climate change

Turkey: MEPs cut support by €70m due to no improvement in respect for EU values

Greece lost a month that cannot be found neither in “mini Summits” nor in Berlin

Will the end of QE come along with ECB’s inflation target?

Telecommunications and Internet: A Jungle with no principles?

European Youth Vlog

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: Cameron corroborates that Britain should remain in the EU

Worldwide UN family celebrates enduring universal values of human rights

Why EU’s working and unemployed millions remain uncertain or even desperate about their future

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

A Year in China

Skeptic France about Trump-Juncker trade deal favoring German cars; EU’s unity in peril

Commission hardens its stance against carmakers ensuring emissions reductions targets

Back to the future: flying cars are becoming a reality

The Commission calls for a climate neutral Europe by 2050*

Can the EU afford to block China’s business openings to Europe by denying her the ‘market economy status’?

EU crisis aggravates structural differences, threatens cohesion

Has the treacherous theory about the ‘French patient’ finally prevailed?

Trust and support of Iraqis essential for success of UN’s Da’esh terror investigation

Politics still matter in the US but not in Europe

Nagasaki is ‘a global inspiration’ for peace, UN chief says marking 73rd anniversary of atomic bombing

G20 GDP growth nudges up to 1.0% in the second quarter of 2018

Human rights chief calls for international probe on Venezuela, following ‘shocking accounts of extrajudicial killings’

ECB’s Draghi favours a cheaper euro to serve all Eurozone countries

Blockchain could boost global trade by $1 trillion

IMF’s Lagarde: Ukraine must fight corruption

How we can work together in the fight against NCDs

COP21 Breaking News_05 December: Carbon Price Needed for Climate Change Success

Latest leaked TTIP document confirms EU sovereignty may be under threat

Access to ‘affordable’ medicines in India: challenges & solutions

Horse meat runs faster than authorities…

Liaison Officer – 2020

ECB tied in the anti-monetary German ideology

Healthcare for refugees: a necessary symbiosis of medicine and politics

The EU will always have a stable partner in Montenegro, says President Đukanović

A Europe that Protects: Commission calls for decisive action on security priorities

EU to spend €6 billion on youth employment and training futile schemes

EU readies for eventual annulment of the Turkish agreement on immigrants-refugees

Is the ECB ready to flood Eurozone with freshly printed money?

Taliban-led violence during recent Afghan polls leaves record high numbers of civilians dead – UN

Draghi left alone with no hope of boosting EU growth as Merkel just focuses on next elections

Draghi to lay his print on long term ECB policies prior to exiting next year

Sanctions on Russia to be the biggest unity test at this European Council

From drones to health data, how Japan can power ahead

Eurozone examines the prospect of issuing debt paper jointly

4 things President Trump could learn from Jimmy Carter

How will Brexit affect higher education in the EU?

The EU threatens to occupy Libya militarily; is another colonial war brewing?

Challenges remain in DPRK despite ‘slight’ improvements in health, wellbeing: UNICEF

Trump systematically upsets global order and trade: Where does this end?

The key takeaways of G7 Summit in Canada

No improvement in respect for EU values: MEPs cut support for Turkey by €70m

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

Raw materials use to double by 2060 with severe environmental consequences

Is Europe misjudging its abilities to endure more austerity and unemployment?

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