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

UN Environment Assembly delegates urged to get creative to solve environmental problems, including air pollution:

Fourth UN Environment Assembly kicks off, urging delegates to "Solve Different"

Nairobi, Kenya
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One hot day, young Arpit Dhupar was having a drink at one of the many sugar cane juice vendors in his home city Delhi when he noticed something: soot from the exhaust fumes emitted by the diesel engines the vendors used to power their sugar cane crushers were turning the wall behind them black.

“It occurred to me: why not intentionally capture the pollutants to paint walls – and paper – instead?” he recalled.

Years later, that is precisely what the engineer did, co-founding Chakr Innovation, which uses a new, solvent-based technology and process that captures 90 per cent of particulate matter from diesel engines and turns it into non-toxic ink pigment– the same quality as that used in the printing industry.

“Chakr in Hindi means ‘cycle.’ When I founded Chakr Innovation, I set out to complete the carbon cycle, so that it doesn’t end up in the atmosphere but can be captured and used again,” said the 2018 Young Champion of the Earth for Asia and the Pacific.

Creativity, like Dhupar’s divergent thinking, is what UN Environment hopes the 4,700 participants at this week’s fourth UN Environment Assembly will bring to the table, exhorting them to “Solve Different” and take bold, innovative approaches as they discuss new policies, technologies and innovative solutions for achieving sustainable consumption and production.

He is among the seven 2018 Young Champions who are in Nairobi to attend the event, which kicked off today.

imageYoung Champions of the Earth award ceremony in New York, 2018. Photo by UN Environment.

“As never before, the time to act is now,” said President of the UN Environment Assembly and Minister of Environment of Estonia, Siim Kiisler.

“We know we can build more sustainable, prosperous and inclusive societies with sustainable consumption and production patterns that address our environmental challenges and leave no one behind. But we will need to create the enabling conditions for this to happen. And we will need to do things differently,” he said.

Ahead of the meeting, UN Environment’s Acting Executive Director, Joyce Msuya, delivered a strongly-worded letter to countries, urging them to deliver real change.

“Time is running short. We are past pledging and politicking. We are past commitments with little accountability. What’s at stake is life, and society, as the majority of us know it and enjoy it today,” she wrote.

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

UN Environment background report (pdf) prepared for the Assembly sets the scene, serving up some new revelations based on the upcoming GEO6 report, 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 agreed upon. 

One of its findings, according to the background report, is that 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 dollars, at a global cost of only $22.1 trillion.

The report 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.

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.

This week, the Young Champions will speak at high-level events and attend networking sessions with delegates from around the world, and will host a cocktail session entitled “Youth to Power”, at which they will facilitate a discussion challenging world leaders to include youth in the environment debate.

Arpit and another Young Champion will address the Alliance for High Ambition on Chemicals and Waste, a group of ministers and the senior representatives from intergovernmental organizations, industry and civil society, to push for multi-level action on issues around chemicals and waste.

Read the UNEA opening press release here: World leaders gather at UN’s top environmental body to ramp up solutions for sustainable economies.

Read the UN Environment background document to the 4th UN Environment Assembly here: Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production

Read more about Arpit Dhupar, Young Champion of the Earth for Asia and the Pacific, here: Young Champion of the Earth, winner for Asia Pacific.

Banner photo by UN Environment.