On 6 December, during the third session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, IUCN Director General Inger Andersen delivered IUCN’s official statement on how addressing pollution is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Read the full statement below.
Let me begin by first expressing my sincere thanks to our hosts here in beautiful Kenya and congratulating you, Mr. President, on your able leadership at this United Nations Environment Assembly.
Regardless of which language we call our mother tongue, pollution – or its equivalent, forurening in Danish, my native language – is a word we all grew up with. And at IUCN, we believe it that it’s a word we need to eliminate.
I would like to make three main points.
Firstly, pollution makes us sick. A study by our host organisation UNEP, points out that 58% of diarrhoeal disease, a major source of child mortality, is due to lack of access to clean water and sanitation.
Secondly, it contaminates our food. 3.5 billion people depend on oceans as a source of food yet oceans are used as waste and waste water dumps.
And thirdly, it threatens our natural world. We deposit somewhere between 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste into the ocean every year due to inadequate waste management. IUCN Red List data shows that pollution threatens about 22% of species already under pressure, while, biological pollution in the form of invasive alien species imperils 26% of threatened species.
At IUCN, we work on the devastating effects of pollution every day. And we see the consequences it has on nature, on people, and livelihoods from Rio Doce Brazil to the Niger Delta. From our most treasured World Heritage sites to the high seas, we see it for ourselves.
And as we go about our work one thing becomes alarmingly clear: we cannot and will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we do not address pollution.
IUCN is the champion of nature-based solutions. Nature is one of our most powerful allies in the mission to achieve the ambitions set out by the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. But we need to care for her so that she can care for us.
We need to tackle head-on and urgently the various sources of marine pollution, from agriculture and sewage to plastics and microplastics.
We must find sustainable ways of feeding our planet while eliminating the pollutants that threaten our soils.
We need to clean our air and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
And we must mobilise action to tackle the massive problem of invasive species.
Ladies and gentlemen, pollution is a word best left to fade into disuse because, if we get it right, we will no longer need to use it.