During the recent UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, more than 200 countries pledged to eradicate pollution on the planet, committing their countries to honour efforts to prevent, mitigate and manage the dangerous levels of pollution affecting the ecosystem and the health of billions of people around the world.

The three-day assembly held on 4-6 December, was attended by over 4,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials and civil society representatives.

The assembly ended with environment ministers issuing a declaration titled “Towards a pollution free planet”. The declaration commits nations to targeting pollution through tailored actions to shift societies towards more sustainable lifestyles, promoting fiscal incentives to move markets and enforcing stricter laws on pollution.

If the pledges of all the countries are met, 1.49 billion more people will breathe clean air, 480,000 km (or around 30 per cent) of the world’s coastlines will be clean and $18.6 billion will be spent on research and development and on innovative initiatives to tackle air, land and water pollution

Dr. Edgar Gutiérrez, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica and President of the 2017 UN Environment Assembly, said: “The science we have seen at this assembly shows we have been so bad at looking after our planet that we have very little room to make more mistakes”.

“With the promises made here, we are sending a powerful message that we will listen to the science, change the way we consume and produce, and tackle pollution in all its forms across the globe”.

During the assembly, the countries also passed 13 non-binding resolutions with more specific measures on issues such as marine litter and microplastics, air pollution, poisoning from paint and batteries, and pollution in areas hit by conflict and terrorism.

Overall, environmental degradation causes nearly one in four of all deaths worldwide, or 12.6 million people a year, and the widespread destruction of key ecosystems. Air pollution is the single biggest environmental killer, claiming 6.5 million lives each year.

Particular focus was given on ocean plastic pollution. Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s Environment Minister, who initiated the resolution to eliminate ocean plastic pollution revealed how Norway has already seen the impacts of plastic pollution on its seas. He said: “We found microplastics inside mussels, which is something we like to eat. In January this year, a fairly rare species of whale was stranded on a beach because of exhaustion and they simply had to kill it. In its tummy, they found 30 plastic bags”.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, showed excitement for both the declaration and the resolutions. He said: “ We have put the fight against pollution high on the global political agenda. We have a long struggle ahead of us, but the summit showed there is a real appetite for significant positive change”