sunlight shining through trees in a forest

Celebrating World Environment Day

Miriam Aczel

For nearly 50 years, the United Nations’ World Environment Day has been celebrated each June 5th.

World Environment Day is an important opportunity to inspire positive change. Individuals and organizations across the planet unite to take action on pressing issues such as plastic pollution, global climate change, biodiversity and habitat loss among others. The annual event shows how the power of millions of people can lead towards lower carbon emissions and advance environmental policy locally and internationally. 

This year the event is being hosted by Pakistan. The theme is “Ecosystem Restoration”, which will also see the launch of the UN’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.  On June 5th, 2021, people across the globe can join the UN’s free Virtual Launch Gala which officially rings in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

Why Ecosystem Restoration?

According to the UN, every three seconds we lose enough forested area to cover an entire football pitch. In the last 100 years, more than half of our planet’s wetlands have been lost (PDF). Additionally, over half of our coral reefs have disappeared and estimates predict that more than 90 percent of our coral reefs may be gone by 2050, even if we manage to limit global climate change to 1.5°C warming.

Ecosystem restoration means preventing, halting and reversing this damage – to go from exploiting nature to healing it. This World Environment Day will kick off the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global mission to restore lands, including forests and farmlands. Only with healthy ecosystems can we improve people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change and stop the collapse of biodiversity.

World Environment Day, one of the biggest annual events organized by the United Nations, was first established in 1972 on the first day of the Stockholm Conference, and then celebrated for the first time in 1974. The event provides a crucial opportunity for people brainstorm ways to consume less; for businesses to become greener; for farmers and producers to be more sustainable; for governments to commit to improving the environment; for schools to encourage students to act. 

Let’s take a look at the history of this monumental event and some of the most significant achievements from the past several decades. 

  • 1972 – UN’s General Assembly establishes June 5th as World Environment Day on the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Another resolution, adopted by the General Assembly the same day, leads to the creation of UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
  • 1974 – World Environment Day is officially celebrated for the first time with the theme “Only One Earth.”
  • 1977 – UNEP uses the day to raise awareness of the critical problem of the ozone layer’s growing hole, thereby an important trend for WED to catalyze action on pressing environmental challenges.
  • 1979 – This years’ theme is “Only One Future for Our Children” and is timed to coincide with the launch of the International Year of the Child. 
  • 1981 – This year, the focus of the global day is on harmful chemicals in water supplies and within food chains and paves the way for the UNEP’s Governing Council to adopt the Montevideo Programme, which establishes objectives for critical international agreements restricting or preventing a wide range of toxic chemicals in agriculture and the environment.
  • 1987 – The event was held at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, where the organization presented the first of its Global 500 awards to environmental champions. These awards become a mainstay of World Environment Day celebrations until 2003.
  • 1992 – This years’ event was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the time of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UN Earth Summit). At the Earth Summit, countries negotiate historic agreements on climate change and biodiversity protection.
  • 1993 – China hosts this year’s event in its capital city, Beijing, with the theme “Poverty and the Environment – Breaking the Vicious Circle.” 
  • 1998 – World Environment Day celebrations are held in Moscow, Russia. The event highlights threats to our planet’s precious marine ecosystems with the theme “For Life on Earth – Save our Seas” and launches the International Year of the Ocean. 
  • 2000 – UNEP launches the first World Environment Day website, which enables people across the globe to connect over environmental protection. This year’s main events take place in Adelaide, Australia with the theme “The Environment Millennium – Time to Act” in advance of the UN presenting the Millennium Development Goals.
  • 2005 – This year marks the first time World Environment Day was held in North America, with San Francisco hosting the festivities with the theme “Green Cities: Plan for the Planet.” The massive event is attended by Governor Gavin Newsom (former Mayor of San Francisco) and Former Vice-President Al Gore.
  • 2006 – Ten years after the UN Convention to Combat Desertification was entered into force, Algeria hosts WED with the theme “Deserts and Desertification – Don’t Desert Drylands!”
  • 2010 – The WED Legacy Initiative helps raise over $85,000 for gorilla conservation programs and to provide solar lighting in villages across this year’s host, Rwanda. The fundraising initiative held an online competition where participants could choose names for several baby gorillas. This helped to raise awareness about their threatened status.
  • 2012 – Two decades after the Earth Summit, WED celebrations return to host Rio de Janeiro. This year’s theme is “Green Economy: Does it Include You?” and the WED website had over 4.25 million visits, a record number.
  • 2013 – This year’s theme is Think.Eat.Save., a campaign to act on the huge amount of food waste each year, and inspires people to reduce the environmental impact of food production and minimize food waste.
  • 2018 – The 45th World Environment Day celebration was hosted by India with the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution.” More than 6,000 people met at Versova Beach, Mumbai for a beach clean-up, collecting nearly 100 tons of plastic!
  • 2020 – Last year, World Environment Day was hosted by Colombia with a focus on biodiversity. Within the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis, President Iván Duque Márquez said “the time to act is now if we want to assure our present and our future.” 

This year the festivities will be held online, meaning that people across the globe can come together and work to create more resilient communities. Learn more about forest restoration in honor of this years’ theme!

Cover image credit: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Dülmen, Rorup, NSG Roruper Holz — 2021 — 8187-91” / CC BY-SA 4.0

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