By Robin Gomes
On this year’s World Environment Day, celebrated on June 5, the United Nations is drawing links between the health of the planet and human health, and highlighting the importance of protecting biodiversity, the system that supports life.
Since 1974, World Environment Day has been celebrated every year on 5 June, engaging governments, businesses, celebrities and citizens to focus their efforts on a pressing environmental issue.
At a time when one million animal and plant species are believed to be on the verge of extinction, the theme chosen for this year’s World Environment Day is biodiversity.
UN chief – we are harming ourselves
In a video message for this occasion, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “nature is sending us a clear message. We are harming the natural world, to our own detriment.”
He noted that habitat degradation and biodiversity loss are accelerating, “climate disruption is getting worse…” Fires, floods, droughts and superstorms are becoming more frequent and damaging, and oceans are heating and acidifying, destroying coral ecosystems.
“And now,” he said, “a new coronavirus is raging, undermining health and livelihoods.
“To care for humanity, we MUST care for nature,” Guterres stressed, adding, “We need our entire global community to change course.”
He thus urged all to “rethink what we buy and use”, adopt sustainable habits, farming and business models, safeguard remaining wild spaces and wildlife and commit to a green and resilient future.
Inter-related environmental disasters
In a separate message for World Environment Day, David Boys, the independent UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, drew attention to the link between Covid-19 and human rights.
“At least 70 per cent of emerging infectious diseases like Covid-19,” he said, “are jumping from wildlife into humans.” “We need to address the root causes of these inter-related environmental disasters and seize this opportunity to achieve a just and sustainable future.”
He noted that the “global Covid -19 pandemic demonstrates the direct and severe impacts of environmental degradation on the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including rights to life, health, food, water and culture”.
He urged countries to take urgent action to protect the environment and stop climate disruption, biodiversity loss, toxic pollution and diseases that jump from animals to humans.
UNEP – “build back better” with green investment
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is the leading global authority that sets and promotes the global environmental agenda in keeping with the sustainable development principles within the United Nations system.
As countries open up, and governments approve stimulus packages to support job creation, poverty reduction, development and economic growth, following the ravages of Covid-19, UNEP is urging them to “build back better”.
This involves capturing opportunities for green investment – such as renewable energy, smart housing, green public procurement and public transport – guided by the principles and standards of sustainable production and consumption.
A failure to do so and an attempted return to business as usual, UNEP warned, risks seeing inequalities rising even further, and a worsening of the degradation of the planet.
World Environment Day has grown to become the UN’s biggest annual event, advocating for environmental action and raising worldwide awareness of the need to increase protection for the planet’s long-term survival.
The 2020 edition, which has the tagline “Time for Nature”, is being hosted by Colombia, which is organizing several events, streamed live or on social media.