“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

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

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

The EU seals CETA but plans to re-baptise TTIP after missing the 2016 deadline

‘Endemic’ sexual violence surging in South Sudan: UN human rights office

Parallel downfalls of Merkel and Deutsche Bank threaten Germany and Europe

China-EU Summit on 16-17 July 2018: “Work together to address common challenges”, by China’s Ambassador to the EU

China greenlights first underwater high-speed railway

Combatting terrorism: EP special committee calls for closer EU cooperation

Why do thousands of migrants need to be drowned for Brussels to wake up?

“C’est la vie”? French recession and unemployment to linger in Eurozone

Climate change and health: a much needed multidisciplinary approach

The gender gap of medicine in 2018

Cyprus Parliament says no to blackmail

Where are people most proud to be European?

The EU Parliament and the ECB unknowingly or unwillingly fail to protect our financial assets

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

Is the EU’s enlargement over-stretched?

How a trade war would impact global growth

Public opinion misled by the Commission on air transport safety

High level political talks didn’t break the stalemate in Ukraine

India is a latecomer to AI. Here’s how it plans to catch up

EU to present a “hefty” exit bill to the UK moments before Brexit negotiations

Parliament backs a modernised EU electoral law

Wednesday’s Daily Brief: Diplomacy for Peace Day, #VaccinesWork, the cost of war on Afghans, tech and well-being

There are more than 1 billion guns in the world and this is who owns them

UN global education envoy urges new funding for ‘lost generation’ of children forced out of classrooms by conflict

The role of students in a migration crisis in Roraima, Brazil

FROM THE FIELD: Faces and Voices of Conflict

The world wide web is 30. Here are 8 things you should know about it

Trade protectionism and cartels threaten democracy

UN global counter-terrorism strategy review an ‘overarching vision for the future’: Assembly President

How civil society must adapt to survive its greatest challenges

This forgotten chemical element could be the key to our green energy future

EU Commission says falling labour remuneration leads to deflation and damages growth prospects

Antitrust: Commission fines Google €4.34 billion for illegal practices regarding Android mobile devices to strengthen dominance of Google’s search engine

We could be sleepwalking into a new crisis. How should the business world prepare?

Moscow’s Eurasian Union lost significance after the crisis in Ukraine

Trump fines China with $50 billion a year plus some more…

More state aid to big firms, no special provisions for the SMEs

45th Anniversary of the French Confederation (Confédération Nationale des Junior Entreprises)

A new era of computing is coming. How can we make sure it is sustainable?

COP21 Breaking News_08 December: Global Business Community Comes to Paris with Solutions for Taking On the Climate Challenge Across the Board

It’s not kids’ screen time you should worry about – it’s yours

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

External action: more funds for human rights, development and climate change

Europe on the Move: Commission completes its agenda for safe, clean and connected mobility

FROM THE FIELD: Survival in Yemen against all odds

Commission Vice-President Rehn exaggerates Eurozone’s growth prospects

EU leaders slammed on anti-tax evasion inaction and expensive energy

To hope or doubt? The state of women’s progress in the world

The Franco-German axis considers that all EU needs now is more armaments

Tax revenues continue increasing as the tax mix shifts further towards corporate and consumption taxes

Although Greece is struggling to pay salaries and pensions Varoufakis is “optimistic”; the Sting reports live from EBS 2015

EU Parliament shows its teeth in view of 2014 elections

Trade negotiations with US can start under certain conditions

Will AI make the gender gap in the workplace harder to close?

Close to final agreement on the EU Banking Union

Eurozone business activity again on upwards path

EU budget: Regional Development and Cohesion Policy beyond 2020

What lessons to draw from the destruction of Syria

Climate change: Will COP23 be able to accelerate the implementation of the Paris agreement?

‘Health is a right, not a privilege’ says WHO chief on World Health Day

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