World commits to pollution-free planet at environment summit
By Duncan Mboyah
The world environmental ministers have made a commitment to have a pollution-free world at the close of the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi recently. The leaders made resolutions and pledges promising to improve the lives of billions across the globe by cleaning up air, land and water. “The science we have seen at this assembly shows we have been so bad at looking after our planet that we have very little room to make more mistakes,” said Edgar Gutierrez, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica and the President of the 2017 UN Environment Assembly.He said that for the first time, the assembly is sending a powerful message that they will listen to science, change the way people consume and produce, and tackle pollution in all its forms across the globe.
For the first time at a UN Environment Assembly, environment ministers issued a declaration saying that they will honour efforts to prevent, mitigate and manage the pollution of air, land and soil, freshwater, and oceans – which harms health, societies, ecosystems, economies, and security. The declaration committed to increase research towards the fight against pollution through tailored actions that includes sustainable lifestyles based on a circular economy, promoting fiscal incentives to move markets and promote positive change and strengthening and enforcing laws on pollution. “We have a long struggle ahead of us, but the summit showed there is a real appetite for significant positive change,” Erik Solheim, UN Environment Executive Director said. He said that the massive support from civil society, businesses and individuals – with millions of pledges to end pollution – show that this is a global challenge with a global desire to win this battle together.
Almost 2.5 million pledges from governments, civil society, businesses, and individuals were logged. If all commitments are met, 1.49 billion people will breathe clean air, one-third of the word’s coastlines will be clean, and USD 18.6 billion of investment will come online. The Ministers noted that tackle pollution will enable countries contribute to sustainable development by fighting poverty, improving health, creating descent jobs, improving life below the water and land and reducing Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). They committed to collaborate with the politicians, scientists, the private sector and civil society to deliver a pollution free planet.
They committed to continue to respect the Rio principles on environmental and development in efforts to make the environment clean. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for air quality, more than 17,000 people die prematurely due to ill health associated with pollution. Hundreds of children below the age of five die from contaminated water and poor hygiene while women and girls continue to be affected from smoke emanating from fuel wood.
The Ministers noted that it is unfortunate that every year 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of plastic are dumped in oceans while 40 million ton of electronic waste are generated annually and, increasing every year by four to five percent causing severe damage to ecosystems, livelihoods and health.
The Ministers also called on member states to take actions against chemicals that are used in daily lives since they affect communities who do not know the sides they are exposing themselves into. They appreciated the role played by individual countries in offering technological solutions and asked other countries to emulate them and deliver the goals as agreed. The ministers also called for action against armed conflicts, and terrorism that damages the environment and undermining the achievements of sustainable development and threatening the health of the people and ecosystem.
They also agreed to take serious steps towards the environmental conservation to help manage soil, forest, biodiversity loss, sand and dust storms and increasing wildfires.Once they meet the promise 1.49 billion more people will breathe clean air, 480,000 km (or around 30 per cent) of the world’s coastlines will be clean, and USD 18.6 billion for research and development and innovative programmes to combat pollution will come online. The assembly also passed 13 non-binding resolutions and three decisions. Among them were moves to address marine litter and micro plastics, prevent and reduce air pollution, cut out lead poisoning from paint and batteries, protect water-based ecosystems from pollution, deal with soil pollution, and manage pollution in areas hit by conflict and terrorism.
Overall, environmental degradation causes nearly one in four of all deaths worldwide, or 12.6 million people a year, and the widespread destruction of key ecosystems. Air pollution is the single biggest environmental killer, claiming 6.5 million lives each year.Over 80 per cent of the world’s wastewater is released into the environment without treatment, poisoning the fields where we grow our food and the lakes and rivers that provide drinking water to 300 million people. A recent report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health says that welfare losses due to pollution are estimated at over USD 4.6 trillion each year, equivalent to 6.2 per cent of global economic output.