Network Updates / Nairobi, Kenya / 2019-03-11

$54 trillion: Potential global health benefits of action on air pollution and achieving Paris target:

That's the return on a $22 trillion global investment-- the estimated cost of action, according to an upcoming UN Environment report

Nairobi, Kenya
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The global health benefits of reducing air pollution and achieving the 2°C target of the Paris Agreement could be as high as $54.1 trillion, at a global cost of just $22.1 trillion, according to a soon-to-be-released stocktake of the state of the global environment.

The numbers appear in a background report for the Fourth UN Environment Assembly, which kicked off today, and are referenced to the sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6), UN Environment’s flagship environmental assessment.  

The report of the Executive Director to the Environment Assembly, Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production, sets the scene for the latest talks. 

While marine litter is expected to dominate this round of talks, the background document does address air pollution, stating:

“…air pollution causes economic losses of $5 trillion annually and remains a major environmental contributor to the global burden of disease, causing approximately 7 million premature deaths annually, including 4 million due to ambient air pollution and 3 million to indoor air pollution.

“Exposure to air pollution is highest in low-income and middle-income countries, especially among the 3 billion people who rely on burning wood, charcoal, crop residue and manure for heating, lighting and cooking.

“Under international law, States have obligations to prevent foreseeable harm to human rights caused by environmental degradation. Nevertheless, the international community has not adequately addressed environmental harms.”

Delegates will also discuss progress in the implementation of a 2017 UNEA resolution on preventing and reducing air pollution to improve air quality globally.

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution kills 7 million people a year, taking the lives of 600,000 children, making it the top global environmental health threat. The World Bank estimated it cost the global economy of US$225 billion in lost labor income in 2013. Yet, 90 per cent of the world’s population still breathes air that does not meet World Health Organization guidelines.

The background report makes a strong case for urgent action: it puts the value of lost ecosystem services between 1995 and 2011 at $4 trillion to $20 trillion; shows how agricultural practices are putting increasing pressure on the environment, costing an estimated $3 trillion per year, and estimates pollution-related costs at $4.6 trillion annually.

“It’s clear that we need to transform the way our economies work, and the way we value the things that we consume,” said UN Environment’s Acting Executive Director, Joyce Msuya. “The goal is to break the link between growth and increased resource use, and end our throwaway culture.”

GEO-6 is expected to be released on Wednesday. It is a comprehensive stocktake and assessment of the state of the environment and the policy response to the environmental challenges identified, that also outlines possible pathways to achieving the range of environmental goals countries have agree upon. The information is used by governments and the private sector to support priority-setting and decision-making on courses of action. 

Over 4,700 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, senior UN officials and civil society representatives are gathered at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi to consider new policies, technologies and innovative solutions for achieving sustainable consumption and production.

Outcomes from the meeting will set the global environmental agenda and boost chances of success in the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda.

Read the background document here: Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production