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World Environment Day: Decades of global attempts to save the planet, by Idris

The Dean, Faculty of Environmental Science, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Professor Nasiru Medugu Idris, traces the genesis of the World Environment Day, which made a debut in 1972. Celebrated annually on June 5, the Day, he says, is aimed at educating people about the threats to the environment and encourage them to strike a balance between development and environment

By Professor Nasiru M. Idris
Professor Nasiru M. Idris

The United Nations General Assembly designated June 5 as World Environment Day since 1972 resulting from discussions on the integration of human interactions and the environment. This day marked the opening of the United Nations (UN) Conference on the Human Environment which was held in Stockholm, Sweden. This also led to the establishment of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya. The essence of this day is to educate people about the threats to the environment and encourage them to strike a balance between development and environment.

Therefore, this UN principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment is a very vital platform for promoting progress on the environmental dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) towards championing environmental causes by corporate bodies, non-governmental organisations, communities, governments and celebrities from across the world.

The world is celebrating this year’s World Environment Day 2020 in a unique way as COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the entire globe. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Biodiversity.” Columbia is hosting the event in partnership with the government of Germany. Why Biodiversity? Biodiversity is the variety and variability of life on Earth which is typically a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level.

The issue of biodiversity is very critical today as millions of plants and animal species are facing extinction, thus there has never been a more important time to focus on the issue of biodiversity than now. Therefore, 2020 is a year for urgency, ambition and action to address the crisis facing nature which is coupled with climate change and corona virus pandemic.

So I am encouraging each and every one of us today to accelerate, amplify and engage people, communities and even the governments to take action on critical environmental challenges facing the planet so that we can preserve and restore biodiversity and in return, the ecosystem will provide us with its services which include food availability, water supply, fresh air among others.

However, do you know that current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems are projected to undermine progress towards 80% of the assessed targets of the SDGs related to poverty, hunger, health, sustainable consumption and production, water, cities, climate, oceans and land? So, we are in crisis and we need to do something very quick as the foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature.

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You would recall that, this year started with negative events, ranging from bushfires in Brazil, the United States, and Australia to locust infestations across East Africa and now, a global disease pandemic COVID-19. All these are threatening the existence of web of life and this calls for serious action to be taken with immediate effect.

Therefore this year’s theme “Biodiversity” which is the foundation that supports all life on land and below water has been affected and, if care is not taken, time will come and the ecosystem can no longer provide its services in terms of providing clean air, nutritious food and medicine, mitigate climate change and host of others.

The rate at which human activities are destroying the ecosystem through deforestation, bush burning, construction activities including mining, intensified agriculture, and encroachment of wildlife habitats will continue to destroy the entire universe and/or exceed the Earth carrying capacity, thus, it will be beyond the limit of nature and thus biodiversity loss will have severe implications for humanity, including the collapse of food and health systems.

Research has shown that about 75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are transmitted to people by animals just as what the world today is suspecting the COVID-19 pandemic is also through animal to human contact. Therefore, destroying the biodiversity that support human life is like we are destroying the web of life. 

Now, you can see the importance of celebrating the World Environment Day yearly as to encourage worldwide awareness and action for the protection of the environment. Let look at the timeline of key accomplishments in the annual hosting of the events and the reason for the yearly themes.

In 2019, China hosted the event with the theme “Beat Air Pollution” chosen as it (polluted air) has been killing about seven million people annually. The theme for 2018 was “Beat Plastic Pollution” and the host country was India. The chosen theme was aimed at making people to change their lifestyle so that plastic pollution can be reduced. In 2017, Canada hosted the event with the chosen theme “Connecting people to Nature”. Angola in 2016 hosted the event under the theme “Go wild for life”

In 2015, Italy hosted the event with the theme “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet Consume with Care”. The theme for 2014 was “Raise your voice, not the sea level” Barbados hosted the global celebration of the 42nd edition. The theme focused on global warming and its impact on ocean levels.  In the year 2013, Mongolia hosted the event with the theme “Think. Eat. Save. Reduce your footprint”. The event in Mongolia addressed the huge annual wastage and losses in food, which, if conserved, would release a large quantity of food as well as reduce the overall carbon footprint and further reduce the overall ecological impact due to the worldwide production of food.

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Brazil hosted the World Environment Day 2012, with the theme was “Green Economy: Does it include you?” and marking the 40th anniversary of the event. In 2011, India hosted the event with the theme “Forest: Nature at your Service” while the 2010 event was hosted by Bangladesh with the theme “One Planet One Future”. The event coincided with the International Year of Biodiversity which celebrated the diversity of life on Earth.

Mexico hosted the event in 2009 with the theme “Your Planet Needs You – Unite to Combat Climate Change”. In 2008, the theme was “Kick the habit – Towards A Low Carbon Economy” which was hosted and celebrated by New Zealand.

The city of London, England hosted the event in 2007 with the theme “Melting Ice – a Hot Topic”. In 2006, Algeria celebrated the day with the theme “Deserts and Desertification – Don’t Desert Drylands”. “Green Cities” was the theme in 2005 with San Francisco in the United States hosting the event. Barcelona, Spain in 2004 celebrated with the theme “Wanted! Seas and Oceans – Dead or Alive”. The city of Beirut, Lebanon hosted the event in 2003 with the theme “Water – Two Billion People are dying for it”.

China hosted the event in the city of Shenzhen in 2002 with the theme “Give earth a Chance”. In 2001, Torino in Italy and Havana in Cuba together hosted the event with a single theme “Connect with the World Wide Web of Life”. In the millennium year 2000, like the name implies, the theme was “The Environment Millennium – Time to Act” and was hosted in the city of Adelaide, Australia.

While in the year 1999, Tokyo, Japan celebrated the day with the theme “Our Earth- Our Future – Just save it!”, Moscow, Russia hosted the event in 1998 with the theme “For Life on Earth – Save our Seas”. Seoul, South Korea hosted the event in 1997 with a similar theme to that of Russia “For Life on Earth”.

In 1996, Istanbul, Turkey hosted the event with the theme “Our Earth, Our Habitat, Our Home”. The theme for the year 1995 was “We the people: United for the Global Environment” was celebrated in Pretoria, South Africa. The capital city of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing hosted the event in 1993 with the theme “Poverty and the Environment – Breaking the Vicious Circle”

In 1992, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil hosted the event with the theme “Only One Earth, Care and Share”. The city of Stockholm, Sweden where the first decision to celebrate the day was made, also hosted the event in 1991 with the theme “Climate Change. Need for Global Partnership”.

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Mexico City in 1990 hosted the event with the theme “Children and the Environment” the aim for this theme was to show concern about a better planet for children. The event in 1989 was hosted by Brussels, Belgium with the theme “Global Warming” as the Earth was experiencing daily increase in the surface temperature.

Bangkok, Thailand hosted the celebration in 1988 with the theme “When People Put the Environment First, Development Will Last”. The theme for 1987 was “Environment and Shelter: More than a roof” and was celebrated in Nairobi, Kenya. “A Tree for Peace” was the theme for Ontario, Canada when it hosted the event in 1986. The city of Islamabad, Pakistan hosted the event in 1985 with the theme “Youth: Population and the Environment”.   

From 1977 to 1984, Bangladesh was the only country hosting and celebrating the World Environment Day for eight years in the cities of Sylhet, Rajshahi and Dhaka with the following yearly themes: 1977 “Ozone Layer Environmental Concern; Lands Loss and Soil Degradation”, 1978 “Development Without Destruction”, 1979 “Only One Future for Our Children – Development Without Destruction”, 1980 “A New Challenge for the New Decade: Development Without Destruction”, 1981 “Ground Water; Toxic Chemicals in Human Food Chains”, 1982 “Ten Years After Stockholm (Renewal of Environmental Concerns)”, 1983 “Managing and Disposing Hazardous Waste: Acid Rain and Energy”, and 1984 “Desertification”.

In 1976, the theme of the celebration was “Water: Vital Resource for Life” and was hosted by Ontario, Canada while Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1975 hosted the event with the theme “Human Settlements”.

The second event and celebration of the World Environment Day took place in the city of Spokane, eastern Washington State of the United States in the year 1974.

With this summary of the yearly event and the various themes for World Environment Day from 1972 to 2020, we may need to put in our diaries as a reminder for the celebration of World Environment Day on June 5 of every year and it should also be an important day for us if we care for the planet earth.

This day was designated to help raise worldwide awareness of the threats to our environment and to ensure environmental problems are tackled from the grassroot level. This day could be the day to start changing our lifestyle to reduce our carbon footprint.

Be united for the environment, for a better tomorrow.

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