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The UN Environment Assembly summit, held this week in Nairobi, Kenya, concluded with nearly 2.5 million pledges from governments, businesses and individuals to rid the world of pollution.

According to the UN, if these commitments are met, “1.49 billion more people will breathe clean air, about 30 percent of the world’s coastlines will be clean and $18.6 billion for R&D and innovative programs to combat pollution will come online. “

More than 4,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials, civil society representatives, activists and celebrities gathered at this year’s UN Environment Assembly summit, which took place from Dec. 4-6.

The Assembly is considered the highest-level decision-making body on the environment, and includes membership of all 193 UN Member States.

This year’s Assembly summit revolved around efforts of sustainability and being climate-neutral, with a particular focus on confronting pollution in its various forms – including air, soil, freshwater and oceans.

“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 Dr. Edgar Gutiérrez, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica 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.”

The Assembly passed 13 resolutions and three decisions. However, the commitments are non-binding. Some of the declared resolutions include: moves to address marine litter and microplastics, prevent and reduce air pollution, cut out lead poisoning from paint and batteries, protect water-based ecosystems from pollution and manage pollution in areas hit by conflict and terrorism, among others.

For example, Sri Lanka has committed to implementing a ban on all single-use plastic products beginning Jan. 1, 2018. The nation also vowed to improve the separation and recycling of waste, and joined 38 countries already involved in the #CleanSeas campaign, which aims to rid oceans and coastlines of pollution by 2030.

Additionally, Colombia, Singapore, Bulgaria, Hungary and Mongolia joined 100 cities who were already in the #BreatheLife campaign. The signatories of the campaign have promised to reduce air pollution in their respective regions to safe levels by 2030.

According to the Assembly, the effects of pollution are signficantly harming human health, ecosystems, economies and security. They provided a list of stats to highlight the urgency of addressing these issues, including:

  • Air pollution contributes to the deaths of 6.5 million people each year.
  • Eighty percent of global wastewater enters the environment without proper treatment.
  • All sea turtle species in existence has ingested marine litter.
  • By 2050, the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish if nothing is done to prevent plastic pollution.

This marks the first time that nations around the globe have issued a declaration to honor efforts to prevent, mitigate and manage pollution of all forms.

The published declaration began by stating, “We the world’s ministers of the environment, believe that every one of us should be able to live in a clean environment. Any threat to our environment is a threat to our health, our society, our ecosystems, our economy, our security, our well-being and our very survival. That threat is already upon us:  pollution is cutting short the lives of millions of people every year.”

It is followed by a series of statistics and facts on pollution, and the types of efforts that need to be made to combat the staggering impact pollution has on the world.

During the summit, the UN Environment report, The Executive Director’s Report: Towards a Pollution-Free Planet, was also released, and shared a similar sentiment as the declaration.

“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.”

The next UN Environment Assembly is expected to occur in 2019.

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