“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

Advertising

Advertising

Featured Stings

A new European banking space is born this year

COP21 Breaking News_12 December: Another sleepless night for the negotiators before Indaba meeting

Refugee crisis update: Commission still in panic while Turkey is to be added in the equation

Draghi’s ‘quasi’ announcement of a new era of more and cheaper money

When is Berlin telling the truth about the EU banking union?

Will ECB win against low inflation by not following Quantitave Easing?

Does the EU want GMOs and meat with hormones from the US?

European Union: More taxes out of less income

Is there a chance for the West to win the war on terror?

European Youth Forum welcomes establishment of new Youth Intergroup in the European Parliament

Press coverage of migration crisis in Europe: a call for collaborative action

Convincing the Germans to pay also for the unification of Eurozone

Scotland and First Minister Salmond enter the most challenging battlefield for independence: Europe

Refugee crisis update: Commission is struggling alone with little help from EU or G7 leaders

New skills needed for medical students in Industry 4.0

JADE May Meeting last call for participants – join us in Zagreb

Who really cares for the environment?

Yes, together we can make a change! YO!Fest and EYE 2016

“The winner is who can accelerate the transition to a new digital era”. The Sting reports live from EBS 2015: a Digital Europe 4.0

Eurozone: Retail sales betray economic frailty

Britain in and out of the EU

Does the Greek deal strengthen the Eurozone? Markets react cautiously

JADE visits Lithuanian Junior Initiatives

Greferendum: the biggest political gaffe in western modern history to tear Europe apart? #Grexit #Graccident

Why the ECB suddenly decided to flood banks with money?

European Sting Cookie Policy

JADE Spring Meeting 2015: a step forward for Youth Entrepreneurship

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

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

Germany and France only care about keeping their borrowing cheap

The refugee crisis brings to light EU’s most horrible flaws and nightmares

Youth unemployment: No light at the end of the tunnel

The EU slowly exits from “Excessive Deficit Procedure” and hopefully from ‘Excessive Austerity Procedure’ too

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

Arlington, USA: kick-off of the fifth round of the EU-US boxing match

We are close yet so far…

Cloud computing under scrutiny in the EU?

YO!Fest back in Strasbourg for the 2nd edition of the European Youth Event – 20-21 May 2016

Neelie Kroes at the European Young Innovators Forum: Unconvention 2014

The 28 EU leaders show contempt for the European Elections results

Will Europe be a different place this Monday?

EU is now giving Google new monopolies to the detriment of European citizens and Internet companies

We’ll succeed together

Will Merkel ever steer the EU migration Titanic and restore her power in Germany?

SCADA Security Conference 2017 in Prague, Czech Republic

MWC 2016 LIVE: Telenor CEO calls on operators to embrace Mobile Connect initiative

China’s stock markets show recovery signs while EU is closely watching in anticipation of the €10bn investment

IMF’s Lagarde indirectly cautioned Eurozone on deflation

Who is to lose from the 6-month extension of the EU economic sanctions against Russia?

Counting unemployment in the EU: The real rate comes to anything between 16.1% and 20.6%

G20 LIVE: G20 leaders reaffirm OECD’s role in ensuring strong, sustainable and inclusive growth

Maros Sefcovic Canete European Commission Energy

Better late than never? Commission runs now to fight energy dependency on Russia with the sustainable energy security package

US, Russia oblige each other in Syria and Ukraine selling off allies

The historic accomplishment of a seamless EU patent and intellectual property space

Greece did it again

The European Parliament wants to stay in one place

How to test if Kiev’s ‘Maidan’ was an authentic revolt or a well-planned operation

A Sting Exclusive: why the environment is important to your health, by UNEP’s Head for Europe

Tsipras imposes more austerity on insolvent Greece; plans to win new early election soon

The Europe we want: Just, Sustainable, Democratic and Inclusive

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 )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s