If you ask your neighbour who is most threatened by air pollution, the answer will likely be people living in cities like Beijing or Mumbai.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 7 million people die from air pollution every year – that’s almost twice the population of Norway, where GRID-Arendal is based.
And while its true that cities in China, India and other places have huge air pollution problems, it’s also true that polluted air is a major threat to the health of people in Europe. According to the WHO, 95 per cent of people in European cities are exposed to concentrations of air pollution above the organization’s health guideline levels.
For that reason, ministers and and other high-level representatives from 28 countries and organisations at the Eighth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference in Batumi committed to increase efforts to combat air pollution over the next five years. Countries will take action in five areas: monitoring, national action programmes, public awareness, capacity-building, and policy.
The conference was part of a continuing process to deal with environmental issues in Europe and delegates and other participants were looking for concrete examples of action that can be taken to combat pollution. Some examples included countries promising to improve emissions inventories, conduct information campaigns and develop smartphone applications to help monitor air quality.
One of the most moving movements was the launch of the Batumi Action for Cleaner Air, the framework for country commitments. As it was announced, children from a local school gave balloons to ministers. These balloons were a symbol of how the younger generation needs those in power now to work for cleaner air for their future.
Another important conference theme was on greening Europe’s economy through the Batumi Initiative on Green Economy. Discussions focused on the need to create an “inclusive” green economy due to a “scarcity of resources, security of supply and competitiveness”. Speakers said the transition to a greener economy in Europe is possible through the development of the right policies.
The conference was organized by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection of Georgia. That small country hosted approximately 600 delegates from 56 countries, including ministers of environment, defense and education. The Environment for Europe conference takes place every three to five years and is a political framework that also attracts business, non-governmental organizations and others. At least 55 international organizations were represented.
“It’s an impressive sight and an excellent example of cross-border cooperation,“ said Valentin Emelin, the head of GRID-Arendal‘s Environment and Crime Programme. Emelin attended the conference as part of the United Nations Environment Programme delegation.
Emelin took part in a debate at an event sponsored by the European Environment Agency on the `“Shared Environmental Information Systems (SEIS)“ project. Based on GRID-Arendal’s experience, he suggested stronger collaboration between the next phase of the project (SEIS II) and the bodies that guide a number of multilateral environmental agreements in Europe, such as Aarhus Convention Secretariat.
Illegal logging was also on the agenda and he presented GRID-Arendal’s work on illegal logging at a side event called “Eleven years from St. Petersburg Declaration on illegal logging and eight years of ENPI-FLEG: what next?” (ENPI-FLEG is a programme focused on improving forest law enforcement and governance in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine. These countries together account for more than 20% of the world‘s forests.)
Emelin was impressed with both the conference organization and content, and the setting.
“Outside the conference centre it’s easy to see why this Black Sea coast Georgian city is a popular holiday destination,“ he said. “City life is ruled by tourism and its economy, by the sea trade. It has a vibrant night life and activities at the seaside do not stop until way past midnight. There are lots of casinos – I counted six a neighborhood of 10 blocks. The sea is warm according to Norwegian standards, but cold according to local ones.
“This city needs a healthy environment to thrive. And that makes the setting of this year’s conference all the more fitting.”