World Environment Day is a global platform dedicated to raising awareness on the environmental degradation and destruction that humanity is responsible for. Millions of people in more than 150 countries participate, encouraging to take ambitious environmental and climate action and to live more sustainably. Furthermore, individuals and civil society play a key role in urging governments and the private sector to step up efforts. Eventually, it is for the protection of our common home that we must fight for, the only one we have, as the event’s slogan #OnlyOneEarth, the same of the Stockholm Conference, reminds us. Because our lives literally depend on all of us taking care of Mother Earth.
This international event becomes more important every year in light of the devastating effects of the climate crisis. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reiterates the urgent need to act on climate. We must cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions nearly in half by 2030 to prevent global temperatures from rising to 2.7 degrees Celsius or higher. Today’s levels of GHG emissions are likely to cause twice as much warming, 3.2 degrees Celsius by 2100. While extreme climate events are evident everywhere, these have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable and marginalized communities. Africa, for example, is experiencing the worst of the climate crisis, with over 13 million Africans already impacted and 25 million at risk of starvation by the end of the year, despite being responsible for only 2-3% of global GHG emissions. What’s more, the climate crisis disproportionately affects children and women, who are 14 times more likely to die in a climate disaster than men according to UNDP.
If you are wondering what the relationship between rising temperatures and environmental degradation is, you must know that climate, ecosystems and biodiversity are all interconnected. Take as example deforestation in the world’s most biodiversity-dense areas, such as the Amazon forest in South America. In the past decade, the Brazilian Amazon released 20% more CO2 in the atmosphere than it can absorb, ceasing to be the “lungs of the Earth”. Forests, plants and soil are crucial when it comes to halting global warming.
In addition, ecosystem degradation jeopardizes the well-being of over 3 billion people, 40% of the world’s population. On one hand, we need to protect biodiversity from climate change impacts, while, on the other, we must minimize potential negative effects from climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. However, just 3% of the planet is today ecologically intact. With the dramatic experience of Covid-19 still vivid in our minds, it cannot get any clearer that we need healthy ecosystems to live a healthy life and prevent future pandemics. Yet we keep clearing more and more land, which is mainly used for intensive animal breeding and production of their feed.
We are currently using more natural resources than they can recover naturally. As the seminal Stockholm Conference made clear for the first time, it is necessary to safeguard natural resources while ensuring equitable access to them. Unfortunately, this is not happening yet. Every year Overshoot Days, which mark when a country runs out of the natural resources available to it in a year, reminds us that the current system of overproduction and overconsumption is damaging, and that urgent change needs to occur.
Besides, did you know that environmental destruction is recognized as a war crime by the International Criminal Court? In Ukraine, the government and civil society are now collecting evidence of environmental damage as a result of the ongoing Russian aggression. This includes, among others, attacks to nuclear power plants and damage to industrial, heating and water supply facilities, which may cause the release of toxic substances and waste. The country’s Ministry of the Environment currently estimates the war’s environmental damage at USD 5.8 billion. Overall, the war has already jeopardized 900 protected areas, nearly a third (1.2 million hectares) of Ukraine’s protected areas.
As time is running out, today and every day we must take daily actions to protect the environment and call our leaders to make transformative wide-scale changes. UNEP’s #OnlyOneEarth campaign for World Environment Day 2022 aims to engage each one of us to celebrate the planet through collective environmental action. Only together can we transition to a sustainable, just and inclusive future for all.