The UN Environment Programme (UNEP or UN Environment) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have announced an initiative to combat environmental health risks, which claim an estimated 12.6 million lives a year.
The agencies will develop a joint work programme and hold an annual high-level meeting to evaluate progress and make recommendations for continued collaboration.
10 January 2018: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP or UN Environment) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have announced an initiative to combat environmental health risks, which claim an estimated 12.6 million lives a year. The agreement, signed by Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, and Erik Solheim, UNEP Executive Director, on 10 January 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya, will increase joint action to combat air pollution, climate change and antimicrobial resistance, as well as improve coordination on waste and chemicals management, water quality, and food and nutrition. The agreement also includes joint management of the ‘BreatheLife’ campaign, which is focused on reducing air pollution to achieve multiple climate, environmental and health benefits.
The UNEP-WHO collaboration will focus on developing countries where most of the deaths occur and where environmental pollution has had the biggest impact. It will create a more systematic framework for joint research, development of tools and guidance, capacity building, monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), global and regional partnerships, and support for regional health and environment fora. The two agencies will develop a joint work programme and hold an annual high-level meeting to evaluate progress and make recommendations for continued collaboration.
During the most recent UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), which convened in December in 2017, environment ministers adopted a resolution on environment and health, calling for expanded partnerships with relevant UN agencies and partners, and for an implementation plan to tackle pollution. While UNEP and WHO have been cooperating on a range of issues for some time, this latest partnership represents the most significant agreement on joint action related to the environment and health in over 15 years.
In a related article titled, ‘Bringing the world’s dead zones back to life,’ Solheim highlights the impacts of pollution on marine life, describing “dead zones” that result from of an influx of “a deadly cocktail of toxins and excess nutrients” that cause algal blooms. Solheim says that the Chesapeake Bay, in the US, is the largest dead zone, but that hundreds exist globally, transforming large parts of oceans, seas and waterways into “underwater deserts devoid of life.” He points out that failing to tackle pollution actually harms economic growth by damaging industries, destroying livelihoods, intensifying climate change and costing billions of dollars to remedy. He said that countries shifting away from fossil fuels to more sustainable economies that produce less waste will “reap the economic and environmental benefits of the energy revolution.” [UN Press Release] [UNEP Press Release] [Article on Dead Zones by UNEP Executive Director] [BreatheLife Campaign] [SDG Knowledge Hub Article on UNEA-3]