Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of the World Environment Day
For forty-five years, World Environment Day has been a vehicle for inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to acknowledge the importance of the environment, improve quality of life, and foster sustainable development for the well-being of humankind and that of future generations.
This year's theme, "Air Pollution", underlines the fragility of life on Earth without air that is clean and safe to breathe. The World Health Organization recently reported that more than 90% of the world's population lives in areas where levels of air pollution do not meet safe standards. Millions of premature deaths worldwide can be traced to harmful substances in the atmosphere as a result of human activities. Air pollution costs the global economy US $5 trillion every year in welfare.
Atmospheric pollution endangers our health, our habitats, but also our common environmental heritage. It has a negative impact on terrestrial, marine and coastal areas, and causes disturbances in regulatory ecosystems that are fundamental for the overall quality of life of human societies, and for the health of lands, seas and other living species.
Reducing air pollution is about protecting the environment, preserving biodiversity, and mitigating climate change, which make up some of the most pressing challenges of today.
These challenges are highlighted in the first Global Assessment Report on biodiversity that was launched on 6 May 2019 at UNESCO as a conclusion of the plenary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It alerts us to the unprecedented deterioration of nature and of its ecological and evolutionary processes which provide us with quality air, fresh water and healthy soils. The Global Assessment Report also stresses the need to take urgent and immediate collective action to preserve the living fabric of our planet. Doing so is our duty of solidarity to future generations.
Reducing air pollution requires not only technological change, but also a change of mindsets with regards to environmental issues, innovative policies and social regulation. We know that the closer people are to their natural environment, the more likely they are to appreciate nature and its biodiversity, to be aware of our common heritage, and to understand the paramount importance of safe air, which we all depend on for life, well-being and for the future of our planet.
This spirit guides UNESCO's action, embodied in a unique global network of UNESCO-designated sites, designed to bring people closer to nature, and which draws a new map of the world — a map of peace that goes beyond borders, that extends to women and men across generations, and to the living species and the environment around them.
The UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, UNESCO Global Geoparks and World Heritage sites — often representing "green lungs" for the planet — bring together more than 2,000 exceptional sites around the world, covering an area as large as China, which is the host country to this year's World Environment Day. These sites combine conservation with education and innovative approaches to sustainable local development. They hire from the local communities and open their doors to the world's citizens, taking the path to a more inclusive and sustainable development.
On this World Environment Day, I call on all countries to take action to reduce air pollution. Most of all, I call on women and men everywhere to reconnect to nature around them, nature that sustains life and offers us beauty, meaning and harmony.
Let us celebrate this World Environment Day by drawing a deep breath of hope, and let us all take action for better quality of air and for the preservation of our world.