Celebrated annually on 5 June, World Environment Day aims at creating worldwide awareness and encourages political attention and action on environmental issues. World Environment Day thematic celebrations have in the past included caring for the earth and water, ozone layer, climate change, desertification and sustainable development, etc.
World Environment Day was founded by the UN in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Environment Programme and also of World Environment Day (WED), and 20 years since the first UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Earth Summit) in Brazil.
When we see or experience the negative effects of climate change and environmental degradation, it is easy to blame others – for not prioritizing environmental policy; corporate organizations for raising issues like greenhouse gas emissions; NGOs for not lobbying strongly enough for the environment; and individuals for not taking action. World Environment Day however is a day we put aside our differences and instead celebrate the achievements we’ve made towards protecting the environment.
By celebrating World Environment Day, we remind ourselves and others of the importance of caring for our environment. World Environment Day is celebrated around the world in many ways, including street rallies, bicycle parades, green concerts, essay and poster competitions in schools, tree planting, recycling efforts, clean-up campaigns and much more. The 2012 theme for World Environment Day is Green Economy: Does it include you?
In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. Practically speaking, a Green Economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems. If the Green Economy is about social equity and inclusiveness, then, technically it is all about us.
The Green Economy touches almost every aspect of our lives and concerns our development. It is about sustainable energy, green jobs, low carbon economies, green policies, green buildings, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, industry, energy efficiency, sustainable tourism, sustainable transport, waste management, water efficiency and all other resource efficiency. These are all elements involved in the successful implementation of a green economy.
The world today is facing a mounting crisis and in recent years we have experienced a combination of a global financial crisis, a food crisis, volatile oil prices, degradation of ecosystem and an unprecedented climate changes. These inter-related crises challenge the ability of human population to live peacefully and sustainably on this planet, and demand urgent attention of governments and citizens around the world. More importantly, as countries across the globe emerge from deep economic recession, it emphasizes the need for a Green Economy that addresses social equity.
What can be done?
Construction and buildings take a large toll on resources and climate. Energy audit can reduce your building’s climate footprint and lead to significant savings in energy costs.
Overfishing in many parts of the world threatens to deplete future fish stocks. We can avoid this by working to promote sustainable fishing practices. Choose sustainably harvested seafood.
Deforestation accounts for close to 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainably managed forests can continue to support communities and ecosystems without damaging environment and climate. Use electronic files to reduce your demand for paper products. When you support certified sustainable forest products, you support a healthy environment and sustainable livelihoods.
Riding alone in your car isn’t just environmentally and economically inefficient, it’s lonely! Car-pooling or taking public transport reduces environmental impacts and economic costs while strengthening community. Walking or riding a bike for short trips is good for your health – and the environment’s, too! When you choose alternative transportation methods, you support a Green Economy in the transport sector.
Billions of people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water or improved sanitation services – and population growth will worsen the problem. Taking small steps towards wise water use can help conserve this precious resource. Turn off the tap when you’re not using it, wait until you have a full load to run your washing machine, limit shower time, and don’t water your lawn right after a rain. Resource efficiency is key to a Green Economy and water is one of our most important resources.
The world’s population stands at 7 billion and may rise to more than 9 billion by 2050. This means greater pressure on already crowded cities – where more than half of all people now live – and on natural resources, as demand for food, water and energy rises. It’s time to support sustainable agriculture to ensure our ability to feed everyone. Grow your own vegetables, and shop at local farmers’ markets. When you buy local, organic, and sustainable food products, you send a message to producers that you support a Green Economy for agriculture.
The current mainstream energy sources – oil, coal, gas, etc. – are not only harmful to health and environment, they’re not sustainable in a world of growing energy needs. You can support the development of clean, renewable energy by choosing businesses and products that invest in them – or by investing in them yourself. While we work towards a transition to renewable energy, consider ways to improve your personal energy efficiency. Turn off lights and unplug appliances when you are not using them.
Recycling appropriate materials and composting food waste reduces the demand on our natural resources.
In this significant year for the environment and sustainable development, the world leaders will once again meet at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development twenty years after the historic Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992.
Sustainability entails providing opportunity for all by balancing the social, economic and environmental dimensions of development. We have to rebut the myth that there is conflict between economic health and environment. With right policies and the right investments, we can protect our environment, grow our economy, generate employment and accelerate social progress.
Moving towards a green economy has the potential to achieve sustainable development and eradicate poverty on an unprecedented scale, with speed and effectiveness. It requires world leaders, civil society and industry to collaboratively work towards this transition. It will also need a sustained effort on the part of policy makers and citizens to rethink and redefine traditional measures of wealth, prosperity and well-being.
*Joint Director, PIB, Chennai.