Climate Action

UNEP launches landmark report at UN Environment Assembly

Environmental impacts are responsible for nearly 25 per cent of all deaths, according to a new study published by UNEP

  • 23 May 2016
  • William Brittlebank

Environmental impacts are responsible for nearly 25 per cent of all deaths and there is an urgent need to place environmental issues at the centre of efforts to improve human health, according to a new study published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The danger posed by air pollution, chemicals, microplastics, zoonotic diseases and other environmental threats to human health have been revealed in a series of reports released at second United Nations Environment Assembly.

The reports show that environmental degradation and pollution is estimated to cause up to 234 times as many premature deaths as occur in conflicts annually.

The findings highlight the importance of a healthy environment to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The report states that environmental impacts are responsible for the deaths of more than 25 per cent of all children under the age of five.

Healthy Environment, Healthy People - published by UNEP, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer, and the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions - assesses at the dangers posed by air pollution, chemicals, climate change and other issues linking environmental quality to human health and well-being.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: "By depleting the ecological infrastructure of our planet and increasing our pollution footprint, we incur an ever-growing cost in terms of human health and well-being. From air pollution and chemical exposure to the mining of our natural resource base, we have compromised our life support systems.”

Mr Steiner (pictured) added: "A healthier planet is a rising tide that lifts all boats, including human health, but also economies and societies. By grounding development and progress in environmental health, we safeguard our own well-being. At UNEA-2, the world is focusing on pathways to ensure that the environment sustains human health rather than threatening it."

The report saysthat in 2012, an estimated 12.6 million deaths were caused by deteriorating environment conditions, or 23 per cent of the total.

The highest proportion of deaths attributed to environmental causes occurs in South-East Asia and in the Western Pacific (28 per cent and 27 per cent of the total respectively).

The number of deaths attributable to the environment is 23 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, 22 per cent in the Eastern Mediterranean region, 11 per cent and 15 per cent in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and non-OECD countries of the Americas region, and 15 per cent in Europe.

The report outlines the drivers of the environmental health-related impacts - including ecosystem disruption, climate change, inequality, unplanned urbanization, unhealthy and wasteful lifestyles and unsustainable consumption and production patterns.

Climate change is exacerbating environment-related health risks and estimates from WHO indicate that 250,000 additional deaths could occur each year between 2030 and 2050, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress, as a result of climate change.

The report suggest that air pollution kills 7 million people across the world annually, with 4.3 million of those deaths caused by  household air pollution.

A lack of access to clean water and sanitation results in 842,000 deatsh from diarrhoeal diseases every year, 97 per cent occurring in developing countries.

The study shows that exposure to chemicals is another killer with about 107,000 people dying annually from exposure to asbestos, and 654,000 died from exposure to lead in 2010.

The report says that since 1995, 606,000 deaths have been caused by natural disasters and 4.1 billion people have been injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance as a result of weather-related disasters.

According to the new resear4ch, the successful phase-out of nearly 100 ozone-depleting substances (ODS) means that up to 2 million cases of skin cancer and many millions of eye cataracts may be prevented each year by 2030.

Benefits from eliminating lead in gasoline worldwide have been estimated at $2.45 trillion per year, saving an estimated 1 million premature deaths per year.

Implementing effective measures to curb emissions of short-lived climate pollutants including black carbon and methane could reduce global warming by 0.5°C by the middle of the century, and save 2.4 million lives a year from reduced air pollution by 2030.