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Healthy planet with healthy people: UN Environment Assembly opens in Nairobi

May 24, 2016

NEW YORK, NY - Hundreds of key global decision-makers are gathering in Kenya today for the second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2 ), aiming to tackle some of the most critical issues facing our planet, from the air pollution that kills millions of people every year to an illegal trade in wildlife that is pushing species to the brink of extinction.

Held at the headquarters of the UN Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi, UNEA is the world's most powerful decision-making body on the environment. This year, leaders will seek to pass a raft of resolutions, including those on food waste, the fading health of oceans, the world's natural capital, and sustainable consumption and production.

Addressing the opening session, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner noted that since the first UNEA held in 2014, “the environment has shifted from the margins of attention to the centre of global decision making.”

“It now runs through the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreementon climate change, establishing UNEA as the ‘World Parliament for the Environment,' he said, stressing that UNEA is the only platform outside of the UN General Assembly to have universal representation.

UNEA also works with stakeholders and experts from the financial, legislative and scientific communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector and provides an interface between science, policy and action.

Mr. Steiner urged participants to focus on action and use this first global decision-making platform since the 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement to review and accelerate progress.

He said UNEA-2, which will continue through 27 May, will feature a three-day Sustainable Innovation Symposium to garner private sector engagement, the launch of a new global campaign to end the illegal trade in wildlife, and the mid-term review of the Montevideo Programme on Environmental Law.

He urged UNEA to show “we can move fast enough and hard enough to create a healthy planet, with healthy people, which leaves no one behind – which means less talk, more action.”

Environmental impacts are responsible for the deaths of more than one quarter of all children under the age of five.

A series of ground-breaking UNEP reports will also be released during UNEA-2. Published today, Healthy Environment, Healthy People warns that environmental impacts are responsible for the deaths of more than one quarter of all children under the age of five, the report states.

The report – compiled by UNEP, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer, and the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions – estimates that environmental degradation and pollution cause up to 234 times as many premature deaths as occur in conflicts annually, highlighting the importance of a healthy environment to achieving the 2030 Agenda.

The report finds that in 2012, an estimated 12.6 million deaths were attributable to deteriorating environment conditions, or 23 per cent of the total.

Climate change is exacerbating the scale and intensity of environment-related health risks. Estimates from the WHO indicate that 250,000 additional deaths could occur each year between 2030 and 2050, mostly from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress, as a result of climate change.

Mr. Steiner said, “By depleting the ecological infrastructure of our planet and increasing our pollution footprint, we incur an ever-growing cost in terms of human health and well-being. From air pollution and chemical exposure to the mining of our natural resource base, we have compromised our life support systems.

Other reports include Marine Plastic Debris and Microplastics: Global Lessons and Research to Inspire Action and Guide Policy Change, which found that between 4.8-12.7 million tonnes of global plastic production ended up in the ocean as a result of inadequate solid waste management in 2014.

Gender and Plastic Management looked at the differing roles of men and women in plastic use and consumption, identifying women in wealthy regions as important stakeholders in reducing plastics in basic consumer goods.

2016 Global Report on the Status of Legal Limits on Lead in Paint found that efforts to tackle lead in paint are advancing. As of early 2016, 70 of 196 countries worldwide, or 36 per cent, had established legally binding limits on lead in paint.

UNEP Frontiers found that there has been a worldwide increase in emerging zoonotic diseases, outbreaks of epidemic zoonoses, a rise in foodborne zoonoses and a troubling persistence of neglected zoonotic diseases in poor countries.

Healthy planet with healthy people: UN Environment Assembly opens in Nairobi

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