Rapid, large-scale, coordinated action needed to beat pollution – UN chief
4 December 2017 Noting the severity of the threats posed by pollution to both people and the planet, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the need for rapid, large-scale and coordinated action by all actors to make the world pollution-free.
“We already have much of the knowledge and technical solutions we need to prevent, mitigate and manage pollution,” said the Secretary-General, in a message to the UN Environment Assembly, currently under way in Nairobi, Kenya.
“Beating pollution will help reduce poverty, improve public health, create decent jobs, address climate change and protect life on land and sea,” he added.
Being held from 4 to 6 December, the UN Environment Assembly brings together Governments, entrepreneurs, activists and others to share ideas and commit to action to protect on environment.
In his remarks, Mr. Guterres noted the assembly’s focus this year on tackling pollution and said that important successes have been achieved towards that target, including the entry into force of the Minamata Convention on Mercury (a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury), as well as the announcement that the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer will enter into force on in January 2019, having obtained the required threshold of 20 ratifications.
“Making our planet pollution-free is a long-term necessary endeavour. The world counts on this Assembly to show strong leadership by sounding the alarm and calling on all Governments to act to beat pollution,” he said.
Discussions at the Environment Assembly are focused on a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report, Towards a Pollution-Free Planet, that urges greater political leadership and partnerships at all levels; strengthened environmental governance ; improved resource efficiency and lifestyle changes; low-carbon tech investments; and advocacy to combat pollution in all its forms.
According to UNEP, 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.
In addition to the impact on health and environment, pollution also extracts a high economic cost – estimated at over $4.6 trillion (equivalent to 6.2 per cent of global economic output) each year in welfare losses due to pollution.
Opening of the plenary of the third United Nations Environment Assembly. Photo: UNEP/Natalia Mroz
Opening of the plenary of the third United Nations Environment Assembly. Photo: UNEP/Natalia Mroz
Erik Solheim, the head of UNEP, speaks at the UN Environment Assembly opening. Photo: UNEP/Cyril Villemain
“Given the grim statistics on how we are poisoning ourselves and our planet, bold decisions from the UN Environment Assembly are critical,” said Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of UNEP.
“That is as true for threats like pollution as it is for climate change and the many other environmental threats we face,” he added, noting that all global processes linked to the environment, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change distil to one simple message, “we must take care of people and planet.”
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In major new report, UN environment chief urges ambitious action to save planet from 'pollution menace'
17 November 2017 Every part of the planet and every person is affected by pollution – the world’s largest killer – and while solutions are within reach, new policies, enhanced public and private sector leadership, redirected investments and massive funding are all desperately needed, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has said.
Pollution has significant negative impacts on human health and ecosystems, according to UNEP’s most comprehensive assessment ever, which urges political leadership at all levels, high-level champions and commitments to achieve a pollution-free planet.
The 2017 Executive Director’s Report: Towards a Pollution-Free Planet, presented Thursday by UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim, analyzes impacts on human health and ecosystems brought on by air, land, freshwater, marine, chemical and waste pollution.
“It provides a clearer picture than ever before of the scale of the pollution menace – and the scale of action that will be needed,” he said, stressing: “None of us is now safe, so now all of us have to act.”
The report highlights that nearly a quarter of all deaths worldwide – or 12.6 million people a year – are due to environmental causes.
The health effects are stark, with air pollution alone killing some 6.5 million annually, affecting mostly poor and vulnerable people, according to the report.
Meanwhile, ecosystems are also greatly damaged by coastal, wastewater and soil pollution. The vast majority of the world’s wastewater is released untreated, affecting drinking water to 300 million people.
The report lists implementation, knowledge, infrastructure, limited financial and industry leadership, pricing and fiscal, and behavioural as five main gaps that limit the effective actions.
“What makes this report different is the breadth of its analysis and the new ambition of its solutions,” explained Mr. Solheim.
The report’s five key messages to advance towards the goal of a pollution-free planet are:
- political leadership and partnerships at all levels, mobilizing the industry and finance sectors;
- action on the worst pollutants and better enforcement of environmental laws;
- Sustainable consumption and production, through improved resource efficiency and lifestyle changes, better waste prevention and management;
- Investment in cleaner production and consumption to counter pollution, alongside increased funding for pollution monitoring and infrastructure to control pollution; and
- Advocacy to inform and inspire people worldwide.
Environmental governance, also spotlighted in the report, is a key enabler to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“The only answer to the question of how we can all survive on this one planet with our health and dignity intact is to radically change the way we produce, consume and live our lives,” said Ligia Noronha, one of UNEP’s coordinators for the Report.
In this regard, UNEP will convene the third UN Environment Assembly from 4-6 December in Nairobi, Kenya, where UNEP is headquartered.
As the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment, the Assembly aims at engaging high-level participation to tackle the global threat of pollution.
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Photo Story: World pushing for faster climate action at Bonn conference
17 November 2017 The international community has been meeting in Bonn, Germany, for the past two weeks to tackle climate change. One year after the entry into force of the Paris Climate Agreement, the annual Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an opportunity for nations around the world to show their ambition for climate action and their determination to keep their promises under the theme of “Further, Faster – Together.”
The gathering, known as COP23, started last Monday, with technical discussions over the Paris Agreement, and featured high-level events this week, including an address by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
In his address on 15 November, Secretary-General Guterres called climate change “the defining threat of our time,” adding that “our duty – to each other and to future generations – is to raise ambition.” He called for lowering emissions and doing more to adapt to the changes, including through investment in climate-friendly developments, building partnerships, and strengthening political leadership. Pictured: UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, Secretary-General Guterres, and Ovais Sarmad, UNFCCC Deputy Executive Secretary.
While senior officials addressed the international community, one of the most reported stories was of 12-year-old Timoci Naulusala, whose village in Fiji’s Tailevu province was hit by a cyclone last year. “My once beautiful village is now a barren and empty wasteland,” he told the thousands of participants. “Climate change is here to stay unless you do something about it.”
At the heart of the conference in Bonn is the Paris Agreement, which was adopted by the 196 parties to the UNFCCC in December 2015. It calls on the international community to combat climate change by limiting global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius and strive not to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. Above, children at the welcoming ceremony at COP23 on 6 November.
“While Paris represented one of those moments where the best of humanity achieved an agreement so important to our collective futures, Bonn represents how we will move forward to fulfil its promise,” said the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa. “We are running out of time to turn things around. To do so, we must significantly increase our efforts to reduce emissions and our carbon footprints.” Ms. Espinosa is pictured above on one of the bicycles ferrying people between venues for the conference, along with electric buses.
Fijians performing a traditional ceremony at the opening of COP23. The president of the conference is Fiji – the first time a small island country on the frontlines of climate change holds that honour. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the world can no longer ignore phenomena such as extreme storms and rising sea levels: “It’s hard to find any part of the world that is unaffected by these events.”
Above, protesters at one of the COP venues in Bonn. They are among the thousands of delegates from 193 countries – as well as scientists, environmentalists and advocates – estimated to be participating in the two-week event. Given the high turnout, the event is being held in Germany, where logistics are a lesser strain on the country’s resources, rather than in Fiji, which officially holds the presidency.
Among the side events scheduled at COP23 are several focusing on the power of cities, regions, private sector companies and investors, in implementing the Paris Agreement in the areas of energy, water, agriculture, oceans and coastal areas, human settlements, transportation, industry, and forests. Pictured above are signs from an alliance that calls itself “America’s Pledge.” Led by California Governor Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the group says it is committed to the Paris Agreement after President Donald Trump said in June that the United States would withdraw from it.
Credit: Jose M. Correa/UNDAC
Among the initiatives launched at the climate conference is the InsuResilience Global Partnership, which aims to offer insurance against climate risks to an additional 400 million poor and vulnerable people in developing countries by 2020. At the start of the initiative, only around 100 million poor and vulnerable people in Africa, Asia and Latin America were insured against climate-related risks. Read more about the initiative from our team in Bonn.
A week before the opening of the Conference, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that the levels of carbon dioxide (C02) surged at “record-breaking speed” with levels in 2016 higher than anything seen in at least 4.5 million years – before humans existed. The findings coincide with WMO data showing that 2017 is likely one of the hottest years on record.
Climate change is a threat to rich and poor alike, wrote Ms. Espinosa, UN Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Robert Glasser in an opinion piece published in October. They talked about the devastation that Category 5 hurricanes brought to the Caribbean and the United States, and warned that the severity and frequency of such weather events will escalate, unless something is urgently done. Pictured, damage on 8 September from Hurricane Irma in Antigua and Barbuda.
Our team in Bonn has been filing stories for two weeks. Here is our first. We speak to UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Ms. Espinosa, and revisit the Marrakech Climate Conference, which set the stage for this month’s event. Next year’s climate conference will take place in Poland. Pictured: Aerial view of the Bonn Campus, Germany.
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