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“A return to common sense living”

This is what UN Environment’s Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw encouraged environment and health ministers from the pan-European region to aim for at a major conference on 13-15 June.

Every year, around 12.6 million people worldwide die from environmental hazards such as air, water or soil pollution.

We have a moral responsibility to act in the face of environmental problems that affect citizens’ health, said Mr Thiaw, speaking at the sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in the Czech city of Ostrava.

The city is a perfect place to host the conference, said Mr Thiaw – not only due to its legacy of heavy industry but also its efforts towards a cleaner, healthier but equally prosperous future.

Countries were gathering to consider developing action plans by the end of 2018 to tackle health and environment problems. Decision-makers should consider the rationality of taking such action, Mr Thiaw suggested.

“If a natural disaster or terrorist attack wipes out 13 hundred people we are horrified – we want to help the victims and to stop it happening again. Yet we can watch up to 13 million people die year after year after year from pollution and environmental degradation – and we do nothing,” Mr Thiaw pointed out.

Illegally-dumped e-waste currently contains a substantial amount of valuable materials that could be recovered for use, the Deputy Director gave as an example. “You would think that if we saw somebody throw 300 tonnes of gold into landfill or the sea we would think they were crazy. We would stop them. Apparently not!”

In the meantime, “the companies applying common sense and sound ethics are building new markets and sound profits,” Mr Thiaw noted, giving the example of Coop Denmark using a highly successful natural alternative to a heatproof paper that had been linked to health concerns.

We now need to work with governments and scientists to assess all chemicals and waste, work with the private sector and legal community to develop better controls on them, with schools to educate those who will produce the consumer products of the future, and with the general public to leverage their purchasing power, said Mr Thiaw.

Turning away from unfettered consumption, production and waste, would be a return to common sense living, the Deputy Executive Director urged.

The 'portfolio of actions' countries pledged to develop by the end of 2018 will cover water use, sanitation and hygiene; improved air quality; sustainable and healthy cities; waste and contaminated sites; climate change adaptation and resilience; chemical safety; environmentally sustainable health systems.

The pledges will contribute to the 2017 Environment Assembly, to be held in December in Nairobi with the aim of tackling pollution ion an unprecedented scale.

To read Mr Thiaw’s full speech click here.

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