Strengthened Integration Needed for Effective Action on Air Pollution, Sustainable Consumption, Green Economy

Gearing up for the 2nd UN Environment Assembly, countries define an integrated approach to implementing environmental dimension of Sustainable Development Goals
African harvestPhoto Credit: CIAT CC

NAIROBI, February 24, 2016 – Governments and regional organizations met at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Headquarters this week to strengthen the integrated approach to addressing top environmental priorities, such as air quality, sustainable use of resources and transitioning to green economy.

Outcomes of this meeting will determine the second United Nations Environment Assembly’s (UNEA’s) approach to integration as it gathers in Nairobi, in May, to decide on key environmental issues embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The meeting came on the heels of the Open Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives to UNEP, held in Nairobi last week, which has set the stage for key UNEA decisions, including addressing the environmental aspects of global humanitarian crises and human health risks.

In his opening remarks, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “To implement the 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreements, and ensure we meet our ambitious goals, humanity must work together on a scale unprecedented in history. Tackling each goal separately, working within our own silos, will ultimately lead to trade-offs that will hamper implementation.”

UNEP has pioneered the integrated approach to environmental action with several long running, successful initiatives, which have delivered across the three dimensions of sustainable development: the social, the economical and the environmental.

Air Pollution

Each year, 7 million people die as a result of indoor and outdoor air pollution, while many more suffer illnesses that damage their health, happiness and productivity. In the European region alone, the cost of 600,000 premature deaths and air-pollution related diseases was $1.6 trillion in 2010, according to the World Health Organization. Addressing this environmental issue will bring obvious health and economic benefits.

Through the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles UNEP has been coordinating programmes to improve urban air quality by reducing vehicular emissions in developing countries. It is also developing a ground-breaking air quality measuring device that can revolutionize air monitoring in developing countries and help prevent deaths from air pollution.

Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP)

Shifting to sustainable consumption and production patterns is multiple bringing benefits across the three dimensions of the 2030 Agenda, helping societies and economies grow, while maintaining the ecological foundations underpinning their development.

Action on only one aspect of sustainable consumption and production – food waste – has the potential to end hunger worldwide and decrease the environmental footprint of global agriculture. Currently, the food that is produced and not eaten each year is estimated to emit 3.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent, bring economic losses of $940 billion and use 250 cubic kilometers of water – three times the volume of Lake Geneva.

UNEP has been on the front lines of the fight against food waste, with initiatives such as, Think.Eat.Save, SAVE FOOD and Champions of the Target 12.3 of the SDGs , which aims to halve per capita global food waste by 2030.

Inclusive Green Economy

UNEP’s work on inclusive green economy helps countries increase their income and employment from investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution. Working through partnerships, such as the artnership for Action on Green Economy and the Poverty Environment Initiative, UNEP is facilitating the transition to an economic system that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

For example, UNEP’s scoping study in Egypt has identified opportunities for a shift to green economy that would result in annual savings of over $1.3 billion in the agriculture sector, and $1.1 billion in the water sector, as well as a 13 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions, and a 40 per cent reduction in water consumption.

Other Examples of Integrated Approach to Environmental Action

The Montreal Protocol, universally ratified by all UN member states, has immensely benefited human health, agricultural productivity and marine environments, by limiting the loss of stratospheric ozone.

It is helping prevent up to 2 million cases of skin cancer and many millions of eye cataracts each year and is safeguarding food security by reducing ultraviolet damage to crops and marine ecosystems.

Cumulative estimates and projections from 1987 to 2060 show that the global phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons alone will result in an estimated US$1.8 trillion in global health benefits and almost US$460 billion in avoided damages to agriculture, fisheries and materials.

UNEP’s ProEcoServ project, which aims to integrate the economic value of ecosystems into government policies, identified almost $1 billion of annual benefits in four countries – Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Viet Nam and Chile – including soil retention services worth $622 million in Trinidad and Tobago and $166 million in savings through ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction in South Africa. Governments are now including the value of ecosystems in national planning, protecting livelihoods and ensuring sustainable growth.

Investing in the environment and including the private sector is critical to integration across the SDGs. Through initiatives, such as the UNEP Finance Initiative and the UNEP Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System UNEP is exploring how the financial system can fulfil its underlying purpose to serve the long term health of the global economy and advance social development.

UNEP Inquiry, launched in early 2014, explores what will potentially be one of the most important contemporary changes in our international economic and development landscape: the reshaping of our global financial system to fit the needs of sustainable development financing.

Its research in 12 countries and across a range of critical sectors such as banking, insurance, investment and securities has concluded that if brought to scale, green innovations in the US $300+ trillion global financial system could help close the gap in sustainable development investment and fuel progress towards the 2030 Agenda and the Paris commitments.

For more information, please contact:

Michal Szymanski, +254 715 876 185,


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