February 2019: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has reported back on its actions towards a pollution-free planet, in the lead-up to the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). Highlights include progress on ChemObs, a Global Environment Facility (GEF)-supported project for the sound management of chemicals in Africa, health and environment ministers’ adoption of a ten-year strategic action plan for the continent, and plans for a report on the health impacts of fertilizers and pesticides.

UNEA-3 had requested UNEP and the World Health Organization (WHO) to take action on integrated environmental and health risks – also relevant to achieving the SDGs. The UNEP report titled, ‘Progress in the Implementation of Resolution 3/4 on Environment and Health,’ (UNEP/EA.4/7) gives an update on steps taken so far.

On chemicals management (SDG target 3.9 on reducing deaths from hazardous chemicals), UNEP reports progress toward establishing a ChemObs observatory on health and environment, with a data collection and management system for Africa to be ready by late 2019.

On regional processes, UNEP and WHO co-organized the third Interministerial Conference on Health and Environment in Africa in Libreville, Gabon, from 6-9 November 2018, which was attended by 550 participants, including 38 ministerial-level delegates. The ten-year plan adopted by ministers at this meeting aims for better public health and preservation of ecosystem integrity – the first continent-wide response to the global commitment “towards a pollution-free planet” at UNEA-3.

On climate action (SDG 13), UNEP, WHO and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) launched a global coalition on health, environment and climate change, at the 71st World Health Assembly in May 2018. The coalition is working on a plan to improve air quality, in partnership with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC). The first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health also took place in late 2018.

UNEP reports that it stepped up its action on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) through collaboration with WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and several coalition groups. UNEP commissioned a scoping paper to obtain data about the impact of antimicrobials on the environment, and is planning an expert group meeting in April 2019 to plan the scope of the full report. In May 2018, UNEP also entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with FAO and IOE to strengthen their partnership on AMR to develop global surveillance systems, a global AMR stewardship programme, and a monitoring and evaluation framework for the global action plan.

With WHO and CCAC, UNEP launched a month-long public campaign, the BreatheLife Challenge, in May 2018. The campaign encouraged people to walk, cycle or use public transport to reduce motor vehicle emissions.

Finally, UNEP appointed an environment and health coordinator to coordinate activities, and reports that around USD 1.7 million has been allocated from various sources to support implementation of resolution 3/4. The Agency will present UNEA-4 with the framework of an implementation plan for moving towards a pollution-free planet, which ministers at UNEA-3 requested.

UNEA-4 will convene under the theme, ‘Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production,’ from 11-15 March 2019, in Nairobi, Kenya. [Progress in the Implementation of Resolution 3/4 on Environment and Health]