Bogotá/Nairobi, 05 June 2020 – As nations of the world strive to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s World Environment Day brings into sharp focus the importance of fundamentally shifting humanity’s relationship with nature to preserve our societies and prevent future pandemics.
Celebrated annually on 5 June, World Environment Day is the United Nations’ biggest event advocating for environmental action and the need to protect our planet. Since it was first observed in 1974, the event has grown to become a global platform for public outreach on the environment in over 100 countries.
This year – despite the ongoing pandemic that has devastated the global community – Colombia and Germany co-hosted the main World Environment Day celebrations, streamed live online from Bogotá. Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez and Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), led global calls to declare it “Time #ForNature,” a call to action to combat the accelerating species loss and degradation of the natural world.
“To care for humanity, we must care for nature. As we work to build back better, let’s put nature where it belongs - at the heart of our decision making,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “On World Environment Day and every day, it’s time for nature.”
“This is a moment for a deep reflection on nature, on climate change, on how we should behave, on what the ethics of our society should be, to protect species and ecosystems,” said President Duque. Colombia, one of six megadiverse countries in the Latin American region, aims to plant 180 million trees by August 2022.
With our ever-increasing demands, humans have pushed nature beyond its limits. In the last 50 years, the human population has doubled; the global economy and trade have grown nearly fourfold and tenfold, respectively. The emergence of COVID-19 has underscored the fact that, when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the very system that supports human life. By upsetting the delicate balance of nature, we have created conditions for pathogens–including coronaviruses–to spread.
“Today, on World Environment Day, I call on everyone to work together to protect the nature that supports us all. The stronger our planet’s life support systems are, the better human health and wealth will be,” UNEP’s Executive Director said.
Around half the world’s GDP depends on nature. Our oceans and forests sustain billions of people and provide green jobs – 86 million green jobs from forests alone. Four billion people rely primarily on natural medicines. Nature-based solutions – such as afforestation and using greenery to cool our cities and buildings – can provide around one-third of the emissions reductions needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
In spite of logistical limitations as a result of the pandemic, governments, the private sector, civil society and individuals across the globe today joined in World Environment Day events, announcements and calls to acknowledge the importance of nature to our health, our economies and our societies.
In Canada, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson announced over 60 conservation projects under development. Funded through the Canada Nature Fund’s Target 1 Challenge initiative, these projects aim to conserve biodiversity, protect species at risk, and enhance the ecological integrity, connectivity, and size of Canada’s protected areas. The projects move Canada closer to its goal of protecting 25 percent of its lands and 25 percent of its oceans by 2025.
In Perú, the President Martin Vizcarra traveled to the Tambopata National Reserve in the Amazon, to supervise the progress of the production of 741,238 seedlings for reforestation and to enhance support to local communities hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Chile, the government announced a nationwide recycling initiative to improve waste management and disposal, including medical waste, due to the pandemic.
In Kenya, a ban on all single-use plastics in the country’s national parks, beaches, forests and other protected areas took effect today. Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, launched a push for five billion new trees as part of the country’s Green Legacy initiative.
In Southeast Asia, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Varawut Silpa-archa, launched a national plastic recycling campaign. Vietnam's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment launched their Action Month for the Environment under the “Time for Nature” theme, while the Wild For Life campaign was launched in Bahasa Indonesia.
South Asian countries also took landmark actions to commemorate World Environment Day. Bhutan, the world’s only carbon negative country, underscored their commitment to nature by launching a revised National Environment Strategy. In Nepal, the national Electricity Authority switched on the first phase of the country’s first 25MW solar array.
In India, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and UNEP’s India Office announced an urban forest programme in 200 cities, while UNEP and TED-Ed’s “Earth School” was incorporated into the Ministry of Human Resources’ digital platform for teachers, DIKSHA.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson today announced £10.9 million to protect rare wildlife and habitats, including turtles in the British Virgin Islands, penguins in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the coral reefs in the Comoros, and chimpanzees in Uganda.
A number of world leaders, as part of what is called The High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, endorsed a statement for the day, calling “on all governments around the world to retain our precious intact ecosystems and wilderness, to preserve and effectively manage at least 30% of our planet’s lands and oceans by 2030, and to restore and conserve biodiversity, as a crucial step to help prevent future pandemics and public health emergencies, and lay the foundations for a sustainable global economy through job creation and human well-being.”
Young people – who have been at the forefront of environmental advocacy - are a key part of efforts to reverse our unhealthy relationship with nature. Today, the World Scout Movement launched their new Earth Tribe platform of environmental badges for their 50 million strong movement. In addition, over 500 higher education institutions, representing 4.6 million students, will announce their support for the "Race to Zero" today by committing to decarbonise and integrate environmental themes across their curriculums by 2050.
Expressing solidarity with countries working to contain the pandemic, UNEP’s Executive Director noted that environmental protection is integral to building back better, adding that the world needs multilateral solutions to environmental challenges that transcend communities, boundaries and countries.
“The world is too big and interconnected for anybody to go it alone in the face of the environmental problems challenging our species,” she said.
NOTES TO EDITORS
About the UN Environment Programme
UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.
For more information, please contact:
Keishamaza Rukikaire, Head of News and Media, UNEP
Moses Osani, UNEP News and Media,
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