UN Environment Assembly passes resolutions to make world pollution-free

The United Nations Environment Assembly has passed 13 non-binding resolutions and three decisions to rid the planet of pollutants, officials said on Thursday.

Published: 07th December 2017 05:14 PM  |   Last Updated: 07th December 2017 05:14 PM   |  A+A-

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NAIROBI: The United Nations Environment Assembly has passed 13 non-binding resolutions and three decisions to rid the planet of pollutants, officials said on Thursday.

For the first time at the summit -- in its third edition -- environment ministers issued a declaration saying nearly 200 nations would honour efforts to prevent, mitigate and manage the pollution of air, land and soil, freshwater and the oceans.

Among the resolutions were those on addressing marine litter and microplastics, preventing and reducing air pollution, cutting out lead from paint and batteries, protecting water-based ecosystems from pollution, dealing with soil pollution and managing pollution in areas hit by conflict and terrorism.

"Today we have put the fight against pollution high on the global political agenda," UN Environment head Erik Solheim said.

"We have a long struggle ahead of us, but the summit showed there is a real appetite for significant positive change," an optimistic Solheim added.

He said it wasn't just about the UN and governments, though.

"The massive support we have seen 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."

A total of 193 nations unanimously asked the United Nations Environment to submit a plan linked to the Sustainable Development Goals for execution by its next assembly in 2019.

They committed to a pollution-free planet at the close of the UN Environment Assembly here on Wednesday, with resolutions and pledges promising to improve the lives of billions across the globe by cleaning up our air, land and water.

If every promise made in and around the summit is met, 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 $18.6 billion for research and development and innovative programmes to combat pollution will come online, a UN Environment statement said.

"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, Costa Rica's Environment and Energy Minister and the President of the 2017 UN Environment Assembly.

"With the promises made here, we are sending a powerful message that we will listen to the science, change the way we consume and produce, and tackle pollution in all its forms across the globe."

Over 4,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials, civil society representatives, activists and celebrities gathered at the summit, which ran for three days.

A large part of the impact from the assembly comes from global support. UN Environment's #BeatPollution campaign hit almost 2.5 million pledges during the event, with 88,000 personal commitments to act.

Chile, Oman, South Africa and Sri Lanka all joined the #CleanSeas campaign during the Nairobi summit, with Sri Lanka promising to implement a ban on single-use plastic products from January 1, 2018, step up the separation and recycling of waste and set the goal of freeing its ocean and coasts of pollution by 2030.

Thirty-nine countries are now in the campaign.

Colombia, Singapore, Bulgaria, Hungary and Mongolia joined 100 cities who were already in the #BreatheLife campaign, which aims to tackle air pollution.

Every signatory has committed to reduce air pollution to safe levels by 2030, with Singapore promising to tighten fuel and emissions standards for vehicles and industries.

The global momentum comes not a moment too soon, as the UN Environment report, The Executive Director's Report: Towards a Pollution-Free Planet, lays out.

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.

Exposure to lead in paint causes brain damage to 600,000 children annually.

The seas already contain 500 "dead zones" with too little oxygen to support marine life.

Over 80 per cent of the world's wastewater is released into the environment without treatment, poisoning the fields where food is grown and the lakes and rivers that provide drinking water to 300 million people.

There is also a huge economic cost.

A recent report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health says that welfare losses due to pollution are estimated at over $4.6 trillion each year, equivalent to 6.2 per cent of global economic output.

"We had two missions at this assembly," said Ibrahim Thiaw, UN Environment's deputy head.

"One (agreeing on action) is accomplished. The second we must start tomorrow," he added.

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