Fri, Dec 08, 2017 - Page 6 News List

UN member states vow to target pollution-free planet


The world’s nations on Wednesday vowed to curb plastic and chemical contamination of the air, soil, rivers and oceans, requiring a complete overhaul in the way goods are produced and consumed.

Changing the behavior of producers and buyers would be key to achieving the vision of a “pollution-free planet” outlined in a political declaration adopted at the third UN Environment Assembly (UNEA).

“Pollution is cutting short the lives of millions of people every year,” said the call to action issued by government ministers in Nairobi at the world’s highest-level decisionmaking forum on environmental issues. “Every day, nine out of 10 of us breathe air that exceeds WHO guidelines for air quality and more than 17,000 people will die prematurely because of it.”

It committed governments to promoting “sustainable economic productivity,” and to encouraging more “sustainable lifestyles” by making it easier to reuse and recycle products, therefore reducing waste.

“What we need to do next is to move concretely to a plan of action,” UN Environment Programme Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw told journalists on the final day of the pollution-themed gathering.

All 193 UN states are members of the UNEA.

“Some of the actions will have to do with the way we produce and the way we consume,” Thiaw said. “Our models of production and consumption will have to change. We do not have to have models of production and consumption that harm the environment and keep killing us.”

This would require “very clear policies” from governments at the national and local level, such as banning single-use plastic shopping bags, Thiaw said.

Mobile phones could be upgraded and reused instead of being replaced every few years, and plastic straws prohibited, for example.

“Every year we dump 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic in our oceans and generate over 40 million tonnes of electronic waste,” the declaration said.

The UN Environment Programme said it had received 2.5 million anti-pollution pledges, including from national governments, municipalities, businesses and individuals.

They include commitments, which are non-binding, to ban plastic bags, curb air pollution or implement “green” public transport.

About 88,000 individuals also made pledges, undertaking to switch to less-polluting fuel, for example, or to use less plastic and recycle more.

Taken together, if all the commitments by governments, businesses and civil society are honored, they would lead to 1.4 billion more people breathing clean air, said Jacqueline McGlade, who coauthored a pollution report for the assembly.

Furthermore, 480,000km — a third of the world’s coastlines — would be unpolluted, and US$18.6 billion would be invested in anti-pollution research and innovation.

The assembly heard that pollution has become the biggest killer of humans, claiming 9 million lives every year — one in six deaths worldwide.

Of the annual tally, nearly 7 million people succumb from inhaling toxins in the air — from car exhaust fumes, factory emissions and indoor cooking with wood and coal, according to a report by The Lancet medical journal.

Lead in paint alone causes brain damage in more than half a million children every year.

The assembly adopted a dozen pollution-curbing resolutions — urging governments to ban the use of lead in paint, step up “actions” to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds by 2025, and urging member states to set ambitious air quality standards.

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