In June 1972, the world’s leaders gathered in Stockholm for the first-ever United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and, for the first time, made commitments to protect the planet. And this week, ministers and high-level representatives and thousands of people joined forces at Stockholm+50 to celebrate World Environment Day, to commemorate 50 years of action on the environment, and to address the triple planetary crisis of pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss.
“Fifty years ago, the world’s leaders came together at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and committed to protecting the planet. But we are far from succeeding. We can no longer ignore the alarm bells that ring louder every day,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his World Environment Day message. “Today, I urge countries to embrace the human right to a clean, healthy environment for all people, everywhere.”
Today, I urge countries to embrace the human right to a clean, healthy environment for all people, everywhere.”
As Secretary-General Guterres mentioned in his remarks, “a growing tide of pollution and waste … is costing some 9 million lives a year.” Seven million of those are due to air pollution – the greatest environmental threat to our health. Eliminating emissions from short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) like methane, which have dangerous, harmful effects for people, ecosystems, and agricultural productivity, will be vital if we are to tackle this crisis. SLCPs are very dangerous, but because of their short lifespan, they hold enormous potential for stopping climate change: rapidly reducing methane emissions from energy, agriculture, and waste is regarded as the single most effective strategy to protect the world from the most dangerous impacts of climate change. If global human-driven methane emissions were reduced by 45 percent by 2030, we would keep warming beneath 1.5°C, helping to keep our air clean, our oceans cool, and our planet thriving.
The Climate and Clean Air Coalition is also commemorating an anniversary this year: a decade of momentum and achievements, and is now redoubling its efforts to rapidly deploy solutions to limit global temperature rise and make air pollution a problem of the past. As we reflect on the past decades and envision the future, we must join forces and use every tool at our disposal to tackle climate change and air pollution together.
“In the decade ahead, the CCAC’s work will be more critical than ever – dramatic reductions in emissions from short-lived climate pollutants are a critical component of efforts to keep warming below 1.5⁰C,” said John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, at an event commemorating the CCAC’s anniversary.
Since its founding in 2012, the CCAC has grown from a group of six countries – Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, and the USA – and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to a continually growing partnership that currently brings together 73 countries and 71 intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. The USA and Ghana currently co-chair the Coalition. Its Secretariat is hosted by UNEP.
Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director, said earlier this year that the Coalition must build on its strong partnership to ensure significant progress toward both climate and clean air goals by 2030. “At a time when multilateralism must urgently step up to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss, the CCAC has demonstrated the power of partnerships to forge leadership and increase action,” she said.
The CCAC is the only international body working on integrated climate and clean air solutions to reduce the rate of near-term warming. Since the Coalition’s launch in 2012, there has been much progress: global commitment to phase down HFCs under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol; the inclusion of short-lived climate pollutants in many countries’ commitments under the Paris Agreement; and over 100 countries representing over two thirds of global GDP committing to slashing methane emissions at least 30 percent by 2030. When governments across the world come together, real change can take place.
“We have an exceptional opportunity to turn climate and environmental commitments into action, if we work together as a community of nations,” said President Kenyatta of Kenya, which has hosted UNEP since it was established following the 1972 Stockholm Conference, at Stockholm+50 this week.
We have an exceptional opportunity to turn climate and environmental commitments into action, if we work together as a community of nations.”
To emphasize the importance of partnership, at Stockholm+50, the CCAC held an event which brought together high-level participants, policy makers, philanthropists, scientists, and activists to discuss the need for increased international and regional cooperation to stop air pollution.
As this World Environment Day theme reminds us, there is only one earth, and one atmosphere that does not recognize borders or boundaries. Only together will we be able to tackle climate change and air pollution, ensuring that people and planet will thrive.