28 Dec 2018 Story Air

Best of 2018 - our readers' pick

Every year, UN Environment publishes a myriad of content hoping to give you, our readers, a glimpse of what we do.

We cover a wide range of environmental issues such as climate change, threats to ecosystems, biodiversity, energy, water, oceans, pollution, transport, air quality, wildlife, chemicals and waste, sustainable living and more.

As 2018 draws to a close, we have compiled our list of the top 10 most read stories of the year. Unsurprisingly, pollution is high on the list. In December 2017, the Third United Nations Environment Assembly focused the world’s attention on pollution, with its theme Toward a Pollution-Free Planet (#BeatPollution). Riding on this wave, the 2018 edition of World Environment Day focused on plastics, with a campaign to #BeatPlasticPollution. Fighting pollution is also the driving force behind our Cleans Seas, Beat Pollution and Breathe Life campaigns.

Plastic and air pollution’s devastating effects on the planet and our health is the topic of seven of our top 10 stories


Beat Plastic Pollution—our interactive story on plastic is the year’s most view page. It explains how plastic, this wonderfully lightweight and easy-to-produce material, has become the scourge of our time. This feature story is a go-to resource for facts and data about plastic pollution.

Plastic planet: How tiny plastic particles are polluting our soil will likely surprise you. It examines the lasting negative impact of microplastics found in soils and freshwater on plants and animals, including people. Despite being less talked about, we suffer more from terrestrial microplastic pollution than marine microplastic pollution, as one third of all plastic waste ends up in soil or freshwater, and, from there, makes its way into our food.

Photo by Reuters

The story The most polluted capital in Europe, you didn’t even know about reveals how Skopje, a city of ex-Yugoslavia, ranks as Europe’s most polluted capital city, with concentrations of harmful fine particulate matter four times higher than the levels recommended by the World Health Organization. In this piece, you’ll hear from Skopje’s residents, the challenges they face and the hopes they hold for the future.

In Air pollution linked to “huge” reduction in intelligence, we unveil a study that links exposure to pollutants to cognitive decline in elderly people, increasing the risk of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The study highlighted in this piece is yet another testimony to the importance of a clean and healthy environment for people’s physical and mental well-being.

Photo by Reuters

From birth to ban: A history of the plastic shopping bag gives an overview of how the plastic bag was created, used and abused, and now increasingly shunned. The story provides a good historical perspective on this ubiquitous piece of plastic.

Fungi research lifts lid on shy organisms that break down plastic holds promise of a response to the plastic bag problem. It unveils the potential of fungi to degrade the bonds between the different polymers in weeks, rather than the decades it can take plastic to naturally disintegrate.

In just one year, Israel halves plastic bags found in the sea describes how Israel reduced the use of plastic bags by 80 per cent in the country—and by half the number of bags found in the sea—after introducing a law requiring businesses to charge consumers for plastic bags. The article illustrates how policy changes are key to addressing plastic pollution.

Solve different: promoting sustainable living and fighting climate change

In the run-up to the Fourth Environment Assembly, which will focus on innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production, we are leading the global campaign Think Beyond Live Within (#SolveDifferent).

Photo by Beyond Meat

Our second most-read story in 2018, tackling the world’s most urgent problem: meat, focuses on sustainable living, and more specifically on excessive meat consumption. It tells the story of two companies who have created and marketed the plant-based burger, a breakthrough that has earned them the prestigious 2018 Champions of the Earth Award. After you’ve read this, we promise that you will see your next piece of meat in very different light.


Released only two weeks ago, our interactive story on UN Environment’s 2018 Emissions Gap Report has already made it to the all-year top ten list. Ahead of the 2019 UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, the report gives a nod to the urgency of addressing climate change and provides a graphic summary of a report that has shaken leaders and citizens around the world. It reveals the shocking gap that stands between what the world should be doing to reduce emissions and prevent the most dangerous effects of climate change, and what has actually been done so far. This feature story is a must-read to better understand why we can’t afford to wait any longer.

Wildlife trafficking still shocks many

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Wildlife crime: Pangolin trade still flourishing despite ban—also widely viewed—examines the illegal trade routes of this fascinating, endangered animal. Pangolins are sold for their scales, meat and body parts, or as stuffed animals.

We hope you enjoyed reading our stories as much as we have enjoyed researching and writing them.

On behalf of the team of writers, programme officers, photographers and communication staff around the world, we take this opportunity to wish you a very happy New Year and look forward to welcoming you again on our website.

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