From clean-ups in Tokyo to tree planting in Zimbabwe, World Environment Day was celebrated around the globe. With a theme of air pollution, China hosted the international day of action. Xi Jinping, the country’s president, was clear in his call for international cooperation: “Humankind only has one planet. Environmental conservation and sustainable development are the common responsibility of all countries. China will work with any and all to implement the 2030 agenda to protect our only planet.”
With 7 million people dying each year from air pollution, the time couldn’t have been more fitting to encourage everyone to find solutions to this truly global problem.
Hundreds of thousands of people took to social media to participate in the World Environment Day #MaskChallenge — including government leaders. Many made pledges to change their lifestyles for a cleaner tomorrow. The English hashtags #WorldEnvironmentDay and #BeatAirPollution trended globally for much of the day.
Celebrities across the globe got involved. American actor Adrian Grenier shared a selfie with his dog Pip—both wearing a mask— and committed to install a rooftop solar-thermal system to reduce his dependence on carbon energy. British singer Ellie Goulding, a lifelong asthma sufferer, also shared a photo with a mask and promised fans she wouldn’t give up on the fight for clean air, encouraging them not to give up either.
A charter for sustainable apparel called 'Made in Switzerland' was launched by some of Switzerland’s biggest textiles companies; Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a ban on single-use plastics in national parks, while Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, issued a special statement promising to accelerate the country’s plan to phase out coal by 2030.
In Europe, celebrations kicked off with the launch of the report ‘Air Pollution and Human Health: The Case of the Western Balkans‘ in Sarajevo, accompanied by the presentation of the ‘Sarajevo Air’ app, which helps citizens plan a journey that avoids the most polluted areas. The report received international coverage in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Across the Middle Eastern nations of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, youth-led flashmobs drew attention to the issue of air pollution right before the start of the Eid-Al Fitr festivities.
Other highlights include Chilean President Sebastian Piñera pledging the country would go carbon neutral by 2050, India launching the world’s first emission trading scheme for particulate matter and joining the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and nine governments becoming part of the BreatheLife campaign, co-led by UN Environment.
We’ve recorded a fraction of the events, pledges and news on our live blog on World Environment Day.
The battle rages on…
But we still need to do more. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a special message on the day, “solutions exist.”
“My message to governments is clear: tax pollution; end fossil fuel subsidies; and stop building new coal plants,” he said. “People everywhere are demanding action. On World Environment Day, let us heed their call.”
Real change will come from the action that individuals, businesses and governments take. Like the authorities in Bogotá (Colombia), Lalitpur and Kathmandu (Nepal), Honduras, Bogor City (Indonesia), the Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Montevideo (Uruguay) and Mexico joining the BreatheLife Network. Or Bluebird, the largest taxi company in Indonesia, pledging to turn much of their fleet electric. Or thousands of people promising to plant trees and cycle more often.
The World Health Organization states that the most common sources of air pollution are agriculture, transport, industry, waste, and household fuel combustion. That means there is a role that each of us can play in the fight to #BeatAirPollution.
Cities like Beijing, have already shown the world that annual emissions such as average PM2.5 concentrations can be reduced by 35 per cent in just four years through strict policies on vehicle emissions and by pushing electric mobility. Others can do the same.
“We have just concluded an outstanding World Environment Day, where we saw hundreds of thousands of people around the world, demonstrate that it is indeed possible to #BeatAirPollution and commit to action for people and planet,” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment.
“But while we have concluded the event, the work is just beginning and we look forward to working with partners, cities, governments, citizens, civil society and private sector, to achieve our ambition of clean air for everyone, everywhere. There can be no more basic need for humanity than this.”