Our economic and industrial history has been one of spectacular scientific and technological breakthroughs that have delivered economic successes and multiple social benefits. However, these benefits have been accompanied by increasing levels of pollution and costs to human health and productivity, ecosystems and the economy.
Pollution from a range of sources can now be found everywhere, even in the most remote areas of the planet, including the polar caps, deep oceans and high mountains. Below the ocean’s abyssal zone, in trenches more than 10,000 meters deep, creatures have been found polluted with chemicals such as flame retardants, paint plasticizers and waterproofers. Yet despite the myriad of animals, plants and microbes being exposed to so many pollutants, the overall impacts on our ecosystems and the services they provide are largely unknown or unobserved.
With a growing global population, the absolute numbers exposed to pollutants will increase unless urgent policies are implemented and actions taken on the ground. Pollution can have a particularly disproportionate and negative effect on the poor, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. Consequently, pollution constitutes a significant impediment to achieving health, well-being, prosperity and the sustainable development goal to “leave no one behind”. Solutions and success stories abound to help clean up pollutants and detoxify our environment. The longer we wait, the greater the extent of our exposure and the cost of the clean-up. Now is the time for action.
Towards a Pollution-Free Planet is the theme of the 2017 UN Environment Assembly. In line with this theme, UN Environment's Executive Director is preparing an official report on pollution, which outlines global pollution challenges; describes how acting on pollution helps achieve the sustainable development goals; and discusses a framework for a global agenda to address pollution. This report will be available in all UN languages in late October.
UN Environment has also prepared a background report that provides detailed evidence of a polluted planet, while also describing potential actions to address the problem. The background report was launched on 28 September and can be downloaded here.