World leaders concerned with how pollution is affecting the environment are in Nairobi this week for the third UN Environment Assembly.

The president of the 2017 assembly and minister of environment and energy of Costa Rica, Edgar Gutierrez, said:

Our collective goal must be to embrace ways to reduce pollution drastically. Only through stronger collective action, beginning in Nairobi this week, can we start clearing up the planet globally and save countless lives.

According to a new UN environment report, environmental degradation causes nearly one in four of all deaths worldwide, or 12.6m people a year, and is causing widespread destruction of key ecosystems.

Over 4,000 representatives from governments, entrepreneurs and activists will discuss the report and ways to reduce the impact of pollution on the environment during the assembly.

Tackling air pollution is top of the list. Research published in the medical journal The Lancet, detailed how pollution killed 9m people in 2015, three times as many deaths as Aids, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

The head of UN environment, Erik Solheim, said:

Given the grim statistics on how we are poisoning ourselves and our planet, bold decisions from the UN Environment Assembly are critical. That is true for threat like pollution as it is for climate change and many other environmental threats we face.

Protecting oceans from pollution

As well as air pollution, attendees at the UN Environment Assembly will discuss how to prevent plastic pollution in the oceans. The UN oceans chief, Lisa Svensson, told the BBC that the level of plastics in the ocean is causing a “planetary crisis”.

Svensson said:

In a few short decades since we discovered the convenience of plastics, we are ruining the ecosystem of the ocean.

However, a new initiative in Australia believes it has found a way to help save the Great Barrier Reef using social media.

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Andy Ridley, who founded the global movement Earth Hour, has created the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef project. The idea focuses on using digital technology to mobilise people across the world to do simple behaviour changes.

By logging these changes digitally, it will give people the chance to see how their behaviour impacts the Great Barrier Reef.

Read more: Turning aircraft into artificial reefs — could this be a way to save the oceans?

The Citizens of Great Barrier Reef website brings together different projects such as encouraging people to bring their own bottle, or to stop using straws. Citizens can log their actions and contribute to saving the reef.

Ridley said:

“We are the generation that has the power to save the Great Barrier Reef. Now is the time to act. Whether it’s making a decision about never using one-use water bottles or take-away cups; even these small decisions when you scale them up to many, many millions, start to make a massive difference.

“We need you to become a Citizen and unite for the Great Barrier Reef.”