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UN commits to stopping ocean plastic pollution

Environment ministers pledged to go towards a 'pollution-free planet'
Image: The UN is calling for radical change to rid the world’s oceans of plastic waste

The world’s environment ministers have pledged to stop plastics seeping into the planet’s oceans in a step “towards a pollution-free planet”.

Delegates at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya, have called for a radical change in how goods are consumed and produced to tackle the world’s rubbish problem.

A declaration to tackle the problem, sealed on Wednesday, said: “Pollution is cutting short the lives of millions of people every year.

“Every day, nine out of 10 of us breathe air that exceeds WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines for air quality and more than 17,000 people will die prematurely because of it.”

Plastic waste has been found at all depths in our oceans

The UNEA is the world’s highest level environmental decision-making forum, which all 193 UN states are a member of.

The new resolution commits governments to promoting “sustainable economic productivity” and to encouraging more “sustainable lifestyles” by making it easier to reuse and recycle products to reduce waste.

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7,000 delegates pledged towards a pollution-free planet
Image: 7,000 delegates have pledged to help move towards a pollution-free planet

The assembly heard that pollution kills nine million people across the world each year – accounting for one in six deaths – which makes it the biggest killer of humans.

Nearly seven million people a year die from inhaling toxins in the air, while lead in paint causes brain damage in more than half-a-million children every year, the assembly also heard.

UN Environment deputy head, Ibrahim Thiaw, said: “What we need to do next is to move concretely to a plan of action.

“Some of the actions will have to do with the way we produce and the way we consume.

“Our models of production and consumption will have to change. We do not have to have models of production and consumption that harm the environment and keep killing us.”

He said governments, at national and local level, will need to have “very clear policies”, such as banning single-use plastic shopping bags.

The Sea Dragon carries 13 crew as it circumnavigates the UK.

On Tuesday, Dr Lisa Svensson, global director for Ocean UN Environment, told Sky News that businesses and civil society also needed to help reduce waste as governments alone could not solve the problem.

The UN Environment Programme says it has received 2.5m anti-pollution pledges from governments, municipalities, businesses and individuals.

They include commitments, which are non-binding, to use green public transport, curb air pollution and ban plastic bags.

About 88,000 individuals made pledges, including switching to cleaner fuel, using less plastic and recycling more.

If all commitments by governments, businesses and civil society are honoured, 1.4 billion people would be breathing clean air, said Jacqueline McGlade, who co-authored a report for the assembly.

A total of 480,000km (nearly 300,000 miles) – a third of the world’s coastlines – would then be unpolluted.

And $18.6bn (£14bn) could then be invested in anti-pollution research and innovation.

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The president of the UNEA meeting, Costa Rica’s environment minister Edgar Gutierrez, said humans “haven’t done a good job” at managing Earth’s natural bounty.

He warned: “The room we have for making more mistakes is very narrow.”

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    Far-right party to enter Austrian government

    Heinz-Christian Strache
    Image: The FPO’s Heinz-Christian Strache is tipped to be deputy chancellor

    Austria is set to become the only western European country with a far-right party in government.

    The head of the conservative People’s Party (OVP), Sebastian Kurz, has struck a coalition deal with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO).

    The FPO will take charge of the foreign, interior and defence ministries, among others, while its leader, 48-year-old Heinz-Christian Strache, will be deputy chancellor.

    Mr Kurz, 31, will be the youngest leader in Europe. His OVP will run ministries including finance and justice.

    When the OVP won Austria’s election on 15 October it did so with a hard line on immigration – a policy which often overlapped with that of the FPO.

    The FPO was third, taking 26% of the vote.

    “Nobody has anything to fear,” said the FPO’s secretary general and Austria’s next interior minister, Herbert Kickl.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Sebastian Kurz says he wants to increase security and combat illegal immigraton

    Mr Kurz held a joint news conference with Mr Strache and told reporters: “Our aims are quite clear.

    “We want to ease the tax burden for people, we want to strengthen our economy, which will bolster our social system.”

    Mr Kurz, known as ‘wunderwuzzi’ or ‘whizz-kid’, added: “And first and foremost we want to increase security in our country, including by combating illegal immigration.”

    While Mr Kurz has said his administration will be pro-European, both he and Mr Strache have expressed doubts about further social integration.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Mr Kurz, 31, is Europe’s youngest leader

    The two men presented their agreement to Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Greens leader who narrowly beat the FPO in a presidential vote in 2015.

    Mr Van der Bellen, who has the right to reject ministers, has said a new government could be sworn in early next week if everything went to plan.

    Following their meeting, Mr Van der Bellen said they had agreed it was in Austria’s “national interest” to remain at the “centre of a strong European Union”.

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    The FPO’s success mirrors that of similar parties across Europe. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party is now the second-largest in the Netherlands, the Front National in France was involved in a run-off for the presidency in May and representatives from Germany’s AfD have entered the Bundestag.

    When the FPO was last in government, under the late Joerg Haider, other EU countries imposed sanctions on Vienna in protest.

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