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  •  Humans "haven

    Humans "haven't done a good job" managing Earth's natural bounty," said one minister during the UN meeting. | Photo: Reuters

Published 7 December 2017

Pollution has become the world's biggest killer, claiming nine million human lives every year — that's one death out of every six.

The world is uniting in a fresh bid to curb plastic and chemical contamination of Earth's air, soil, rivers and oceans, demanding a complete overhaul of the way in which goods are produced and consumed.

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Changing the behaviour of producers and buyers is key to achieving the vision of a "pollution-free planet" outlined in a political declaration adopted at the third UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) this week, it has been reported.

"Pollution is cutting short the lives of millions of people every year," government ministers declared in Nairobi at the world's highest-level decision-making forum on environmental issues.

"Every day, nine out of 10 of us breathe air that exceeds WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines for air quality and more than 17,000 people will die prematurely because of it," the declaration warned.

It committed governments to promoting "sustainable economic productivity" and to encouraging more "sustainable lifestyles" by making it easier to reuse and recycle products, thus reducing waste.

"What we need to do next is to move concretely to a plan of action," UN Environment Programme Deputy Head Ibrahim Thiaw told journalists on the final day of the December 4-6 pollution-themed gathering.

Mobile phones could be upgraded and reused instead of being replaced every few years, while plastic straws should be banned along with single-use plastic shopping bags, he said.

"Every year we dump 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic in our oceans and generate over 40 million tonnes of electronic waste," the ministerial declaration continued.

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The UN Environment Programme has so far received 2.5 million anti-pollution pledges, including from national governments, municipalities and businesses to ban plastic bags, curb air pollution, and green public transport.

As many as 88,000 individuals have also made pledges, undertaking to switch to less-polluting fuel, for example, or to use less plastic and recycle more.

Furthermore, 480,000 kilometres — a third of the world's coastlines — ae to be rid of existing pollutants, while US$18.6 billion dollars will be invested in anti-pollution research and innovation.

Nearly seven million people are at risk of inhaling airborne toxins from car exhaust fumes, factory emissions and indoor cooking with wood and coal, according to a recent report by The Lancet medical journal.

Lead in paint alone causes brain damage in more than half a million children every year.

The assembly adopted a dozen pollution-curbing non-binding resolutions urging governments to ban the use of lead in paint, step up "actions" to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds by 2025, and set ambitious air-quality standards.

The president of the UNEA meeting, Costa Rica's Environment Minister Edgar Gutierrez, lamented Wednesday that humans "haven't done a good job" managing Earth's natural bounty. "The room we have for making more mistakes is very narrow," he warned.

Environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the assembly outcome, stressing the resolutions must now be put into action.

"Whilst leaders talk, the tide of plastic, chemicals and air pollution keeps growing," Greenpeace East Asia campaigner Cheng Qian said in a statement. "The decisions made here must be actioned, implemented and accelerated if we are to stand a chance of restoring the health of our planet."

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