History of the World Environment Day 

Almost five decades ago, the Conference on the Human Environment, or the Stockholm Conference, was held from June 5-16 in Stockholm (Sweden). The aim of this first major conference on environmental issues was to devise a fundamental common outlook on how to address the challenge of preserving and enhancing the human environment.

In the same year, on 15th of December, the General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/2994 (XXVII)) designating June 5 as World Environment Day – the date which coincided with the first day of the landmark Conference. In addition, the General Assembly adopted another resolution (A/RES/3000 (XXVII)), leading  to the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Since its beginning in 1974, World Environment Day serves as a global platform to raise awareness on growing environmental issues such as pollution, ozone layer depletion, desertification, global warming, etc. inspiring citizens and political leaders to develop effective solutions in order to tackle the biggest environmental threats that the human race is facing as a consequence of its indiscriminate use of natural resources and policy decisions which often ignored the needs of the planet. 

World Environment Day 2020 focuses on the interconnection between nature and human beings. It calls for immediate action to protect biodiversity which is in danger, a goal that aligns with the UNEP’s 2050 Vision of Living in Harmony with Nature. Colombia, in partnership with Germany, is the Global Host of World Environment Day 2020.

World Environment Day 2020

What is Biodiversity and why does it matter? 

“What the future brings is unpredictable but biodiversity can give us an insurance policy, earth’s own safety net to safeguard our survival.”

Kim Preshoff, Educator, in one of her TED-Ed Lessons
World Environment Day 2020
Tha le Noi Ramsar Site in Thailand 
Source: IUCN

According to the American Museum of Natural History, biodiversity (from “biological diversity”) refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life.

Biodiversity is a complex, interdependent web which comprises every living thing – from human beings to microeconomics along with more than 8.7 million plant and animal species – and is essential to maintain balance and sustain life on the Earth.

Biodiversity, currently at risk of destruction, touches every aspect of our lives: We need biodiversity to ensure a regular supply of clean air and water, nutritious food, fuel and medicines, habitable climatic conditions, resistance to diseases, protection of coasts we heavily depend upon, mitigation of climate change and maintenance of aesthetic beauty of earth.

Biodiversity
Bubble Coral in Sogod Bay, Philippines 
PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL KELLER, MYSHOT
Source: National Geographic 

Each higher organism is richer in information than a Caravaggio painting, a Bach fugue, or any other great work.”

Prof Edward O Wilson, often called the “father of biodiversity”, in a seminal paper in 1985.

In a nutshell, as the World Wildlife Fund puts it,”Only when life is at its most varied, vigorous, biodiverse form, can we hope to thrive.” It is unimaginable to survive on this planet without nature and its immensely rich biodiversity. 

Why is Biodiversity under Threat?

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The figure illustrates the link between human impacts and biodiversity loss, extracted from the second “Global Biodiversity Outlook” (2006), published by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

As Damian Carrington, Environment editor at The Guardian explains, since the beginning of life on Earth, geological and natural phenomena such as massive volcanic eruptions, deep ice ages, meteorite impacts and clashing continents have resulted in mass extinctions of biodiversity and irreparable damage to fragile ecosystems.

At present, however, human beings are largely (and most of the times, solely) responsible for disturbing this intricate web of life which has thrown the fine balance of life into disarray. Rapid population growth all across the globe which leads to over-exploitation of natural resources to meet the production and consumption demands of an exponentially increasing population is one of the largest drivers of biodiversity loss.

Urbanisation, expansion and intensification of agriculture, industrialisation and infrastructural development to support human lives and livelihoods have posed a serious threat to the existence of invaluable biodiversity. In addition, increasing pollution levels in air, water and soil continues to put the life of all species including Homo Sapiens in constant jeopardy.

Other activities such as deforestation, overgrazing, overfishing and poaching of plants and animals for food and trade by human beings have led to the disappearance of animals like dodos. Researchers call the huge loss of wildlife a “biological annihilation” representing a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation”.

We have lost one half of the animal population and knowing this is driven by human consumption, this is clearly a call to arms and we must act now.”

Mike Barratt, director of science and policy at WWF, in 2014.

Global warming and climate change – responsible for extreme weather conditions, warming of ocean waters and rising sea levels among other things – are other major factors causing degradation and destruction of natural habitats of plants and animals. 

Clearly, we are treading on a path of biodiversity destruction which will ultimately produce undesirable consequences for the entire humanity.

How can we conserve Biodiversity?

“Changes to the climate are reversible, even if that takes centuries or millennia. But once species become extinct, particularly those unknown to science, there’s no going back.”

Damian Carrington, Environment editor, writes in one of his articles for The Guardian

Biodiversity loss can have serious and long-term repercussions on the human health and sustenance of the future generations. What’s important to note is that human beings necessarily have to be a part of the solution.

We all need to understand the basic fact that nature can exist without humans but the opposite is absolutely untrue. Of course, the governments will have to take the tough call on how much land  must be kept aside for nature and how much land surface must be allocated for human use.

Similarly, they need to decide upon the implications of stringent laws against poaching, deforestation, pollution, etc. keeping in mind the lives of tribal communities and the health of the economy. But the conservation of biodiversity is not just the duty of political leaders alone. We all can help. 

Reducing our carbon footprint by making use of public transport or walking to cover shorter distances, saving electricity by unplugging devices when not in use, opting vegetarian diet, buying local foods, conserving water, limiting the use of plastics, following the principle of 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – and choosing to shop judiciously are some of the easiest ways to protect biodiversity. Finally, we all can help reverse the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss by planting trees.

LearnBlue’s One Plant One Family Campaign, in partnership with Indian Changemakers Lingaraj Bmath and Jay Prakash Anand, is one such attempt to restore nature and make sure that the healing process of Earth continues in a post-coronavirus world. To take the pledge of planting a tree, kindly visit: https://bit.ly/1Plant1Family

biodiversity

How can YOU celebrate the World Environment Day? 

Paris, Copenhagen, Buenos Aires, Bali, Cancun, Berlin, Marrakech, Geneva, Lima, Milan, New Delhi, Montreal, Katowice, Madrid…these are some of the destinations where United Nations’ annual climate conferences, officially known as “Conference of the Parties” (COPs), have taken place in the past.

Every year, politicians lecture everyone on wasteful consumption and scientists, like always, keep on explaining the catastrophic damage that we are doing to our Mother Earth.

In the meanwhile, environmental issues too get their short-lived, much-needed recognition in the public domain. Yet, we all know nothing concrete and conclusive actually takes place on the ground. 

Australian bushfires, locust invasions across East Africa, Amazon fires, recent super cyclones such as Amphan and Nisarga – all these frequent calamities are sounding a warning bell: our nature, our environment and our very existence is in danger.

The emergence of COVID-19, a disease which is known to be transmitted to people by animals, has further laid emphasis on how intricately linked the human race is to nature.

As the world celebrates World Environment Day, let’s take a pause and reflect on how our small lifestyle changes can go a long way in solving the problems that nature is facing right now. 

In this moment of tranquillity, it’s the time to go back to our roots and realise we are nothing without nature. It’s the time when we move beyond words and take action to protect nature.

It’s the time when we place nature at the heart of every single decision that we make, it’s the time when we rekindle our relationship with nature. This World Environment Day and every day, it surely is the Time for Nature.