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Global Theme for World Environment Day 2019 Announced – Take a Deep Breath!

The theme of World Environment Day 2019 focused on the blight of air pollution.

We are pleased to announce that UN Environment have revealed a global theme for World Environment Day 2019 which is a growing environmental concern that will benefit from a heightened level of awareness in every country – “air pollution”.

World Environment Day is actively championed by the Society and its network each year. The key global day promotes environmental awareness and sustainability – a United Nations initiative held annually on the 5th June. It has highlighted important global issues since its origins in 1974 – including climate change, marine pollution and wildlife crime.

This year’s global theme focuses on the blight of air pollution, which is welcomed by the Society. Following the announcement, we spoke with a Chartered Environmentalist or two to gain their reaction to the news:

Claire Holman CEnv and Chair of the Institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM) highlights the severity of air pollution:

“Air pollution is a global public health crisis causing unnecessary early mortality and ill heath at a huge economic cost to society. It also impacts on our natural environment altering habitats. World Environment Day 2019 is a great opportunity to increase awareness of this, the world’s most pressing environmental issue of the 21st century.”

Professor James Longhurst CEnv HonFSE, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of the West of England, Honorary Vice President EPUK and Vice President Institution of Environmental Sciences, provided some context for the topic:

“I welcome the announcement that Air Pollution will be the theme for World Environment Day 2019.  Air pollution is one of the most serious health and environmental risks locally, nationally and internationally.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that 4.2 million people die prematurely each year as a result of exposure to ambient air pollution and that 91% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality exceeds WHO guidelines. The WHO describes air pollution as “the world’s biggest environmental health risk” (see WHO “Ambient Air Pollution: A global assessment of exposure and burden of disease” and “Air Pollution”).

Air pollution is now recognised as the biggest environmental risk to health in the European Union.  In September 2018 the European Court of Auditors reported that “air pollution causes about 400,000 premature deaths in the EU and hundreds of billions of Euros in health-related external costs” (See    Special Report No 23/2018, “Air pollution: Our health still insufficiently protected”, JOUE C 324 of 13 September 2018. See also EEA, “Air quality in Europe — 2017 report”, 2017).

In the UK estimates vary as to the annual death toll associated with exposure to air pollution with the most recent data suggesting that some 40,000 people die prematurely each year, principally associated with exposure to fine particles and nitrogen dioxide. Tens of thousands of cases of ill health are associated with exposure to poor air quality with an estimated annual cost of £20 billion to health services and the wider UK economy. Whilst emissions of many air pollutants are declining at a UK scale, concentrations in many cases are resistant to current management interventions. In January the UK Government published its Clean Air Strategy, which sets out ambitious aims and targets for managing air quality. Within the UK more than two thirds of local authorities have one or more Air Quality Management Areas where concentrations of air pollutants exceed objectives set by Government (Defra) and more than 40 UK local authorities are working to develop versions of a Clean Air Zone to address exceedance of EU Limit Values for nitrogen dioxide.

Action on air pollution is required. Some is being taken, but more is needed. World Environment Day provides an important opportunity to raise awareness of the impacts of air pollution and build support for the urgent control actions that are required to reduce the risk to public health and the environment.”

On behalf of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, Brian Robinson CEnv and Gloria Esposito CEnv provide their reaction from a vehicle perspective;

“There can be little doubt that poor air quality is, right now, the most pressing issue for urban society across the world with respect to health. Transport is the dominant source of urban concentrations of oxides of nitrogen and one of the dominant sources of fine and ultrafine particulate matter. The tools to tackle this crisis are well known and also very often align with the imperative to substantially reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to potentially dangerous climate change.

First and foremost, these measures include steps to reduce demand for transport and encourage far greater use of active travel modes and zero emission forms of public transport. But the technologies to dramatically improve the environmental impacts of conventionally-powered vehicles have rapidly emerged over recent years and are proven to work very effectively. So for now we need very aggressive implementation of all these tools. Initiatives such as World Environment Day can be highly influential in raising this to the wider public who, ultimately, will need to embrace and own the solutions.

In the UK a wide variety of cities are taking significant action, and they’ll need the ongoing help of environmental professionals to ensure those actions work and are understood and accepted by the public. However, more – much more quickly – is still needed to get people out of their cars (wherever more sustainable options are available), to renew the fleet with the cleanest vehicles and to use a variety of alternative fuels and other known solutions to clean up the ones already on our roads.”

The Society will again be championing the global theme for World Environment Day – keep an eye out for ways to get involved.

Alongside championing the global theme, the Society will also be hosting its annual World Environment Day Awards and Lectures event on the eve of World Environment Day at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (London), which has the umbrella theme of “A Spotlight on Net Gain”.

Net gain is a topical choice in the UK, complementing the connected global “Air Pollution” theme. In his Spring Statement, The Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond announced mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain as a requirement for developments and the Government’s Twenty-Five Year Environment Plan included a commitment to delivering a wider Environmental Net Gain. Among the speakers discussing this topic will be Nick Blyth CEnv, Policy and Engagement Lead at IEMA (Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment) and Claire Wansbury CEnv, Associate Director of Ecology at Atkins.

To read the official UN Environment announcement, please visit their website.

Beat Air Pollution Hub 2019 SocEnv Awards and Lectures | Video Series