World Environment Day: Millions rally behind movement to restore the earth
Photo: UNEP / 07 Jun 2021
On World Environment Day, a clear message resonated across the globe: we must heal the planet, we must start now and we must work together because everyone has a role to play in reviving the world’s ailing ecosystems.
The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) flagship environmental event in 2021 was both a celebration of the planet and a rallying call for action, as it also marked the formal launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to mobilize hundreds of millions of people to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems.
In a world still reeling from the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, political leaders, activists, artists, businesses, and individuals, young and old, rallied behind a message of hope for nature, recognizing that pandemic recovery stimulus packages offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shift investments towards a “restoration economy” that can provide millions of green jobs.
During a virtual gala to launch the UN Decade, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that we may be reaching “the point of no return for the planet” as humanity ravages ecosystems. But he noted there was still time to change the narrative.
Slash-and-burn agriculture ravages Madagascar's forests. Restoring forests is a key part of the UN Decade. Photo: Lisa Murray/UNEP
“The task is monumental. We need to replant and protect our forests. We need to clean up our rivers and seas. And we need to green our cities. Accomplishing these things will not only safeguard the planet’s resources, it will create millions of new jobs by 2030, generate returns of over U.S. $7 trillion every year and help eliminate poverty and hunger,” he said.
From Pakistan, which hosted the celebrations in partnership with UNEP, to the Americas to Europe, events spanned the globe, including tree-plantings, community clean-ups, concerts, film screenings, artistic tributes and political and financial commitments to tackle the unsustainable practices that are fueling the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
At the World Environment Day launch event in Islamabad, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said the world must correct its course over the next 10 years, showcasing the country’s ambitious Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project, which aims to plant 10 billion trees by 2023.
It's a clash between our greed on the one side and humanity on the other; there needs to be a balance between the two,” he said. “When this balance is disturbed and consumerism, consumption and greed reach such a level, this leads to disastrous consequences for humanity.”
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, which is leading the UN Decade alongside the Food and Agricultural Organization, said that ecosystem restoration could help address all three planetary crises.
“Ecosystem restoration can help bring back lost biodiversity, create productive land for agriculture, provide jobs, restore nature’s buffers against zoonotic diseases, and helps vulnerable communities adapt to changing climate,” she said.
“But, ecosystem restoration alone won’t solve all of our problems,” she noted. “We must stop further ecosystem destruction. But how? By reforming agriculture, changing how we build our cities, decarbonizing our economies, and moving to circular economic models. Restoration, as a quick-acting solution, can buy us time to make these transformations.”
The urgent case for ecosystem restoration was made clearer in a new report – Becoming #Generation Restoration – launched by UNEP and partners. It found that ecosystem degradation affects the well-being of an estimated 3.2 billion people, or 40 per cent of the world’s population and that each year, the world loses ecosystem services worth more than 10 per cent of global economic output.
The report found that restoration if combined with stopping further conversion of natural ecosystems, may help avoid 60 per cent of expected biodiversity extinctions. It can also bring economic and social benefits, for example, agroforestry alone could increase food security for 1.3 billion people.
Global commitments and action
World Environment Day saw a series of political and financial commitments from governments. The United Kingdom pledged over £8 million in new funding to protect wildlife and vulnerable habitats across the globe. Pakistan pledged to restore about 1 million hectares of degraded lands by 2023 as part of the Bonn Challenge; launched its first green bond to raise $500 million to finance clean energy projects. Germany announced it would be the first country to provide funding – 14 million Euro – to the Multi-Partner Trust Fund for the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, while Finland supported the launch with 3 million Euro.
The private sector also made noteworthy pledges. E.ON, Europe’s largest operator of energy distribution networks, promised to create biotopes under 13,000 kilometres of high-voltage lines in forest areas; beauty brand Dove and Conservation International committed 8.5 million Euro to protect and restore 20,000 hectares of forest in North Sumatra, Indonesia.
BYJU’S, a leading Indian edtech company with over 90 million users, joined with UNEP to launch a platform to educate young minds on ecosystem restoration, while a Virtual Ecosystem Restoration Classroom was created for students in South Africa.
A #GenerationRestoration Youth Assembly - a virtual youth forum organised by various youth constituencies, youth-led movements, groups and UN partners -- was organised and will run to June 9.
These were but a few of the commitments made on the occasion.
Setting social media records
Many joined in on social media, taking part in a Snap Challenge to show how they will change behaviors to be part of #GenerationRestoration. For seven consecutive hours on June 5, #WorldEnvironmentDay was the number one hashtag in the world, and for 10 hours, it was among the 10 most used hashtags. In India, it was the top trending hashtag for 12 consecutive hours.
A grey seal trapped in a fishing net on the Norfolk coast, UK. World Environment Day called for action to protect biodiversity. Photo: Stephanie Foote/UNEP
In collaboration with TikTok, UNEP challenged users on the content platform to share their ecosystem restoration action using the #GenerationRestoration hashtag. Videos with the hashtag have been viewed over 65 million times.
Other celebrations included a virtual concert featuring Patti Smith, the Dave Matthews Band, Michael Stipe and other international artists, and the world premiere of Is It Too Much to Ask, a song by DJ Don Diablo for #GenerationRestoration.
Music-led environmental non-profit REVERB launched a Music Climate Revolution to galvanize musicians, fans and music industry leaders to fight the climate crisis.
In India, celebrities, including actors Shilpa Shetty, Akshay Kumar and Arjun Kapoor, released a series of videos calling for a concerted global effort to protect the environment.
UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors Gisele Bündchen, Dia Mirza, chef Massimo Bottura and Formula E driver Lucas De Grassi also lent their support on social media, while young artists such as US poet Jordan Sanchez and Indian sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik created imaginative pieces to highlight the urgent need for restoration.
Musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo, who unveiled a special song from her forthcoming album Mother Nature to mark World Environment Day and also spoke at a restoration event, summed up the urgency of the world’s task.
“The children of this world, this planet, will hold us accountable for generations to come if we do not act. That’s why I say, let’s be bold and fearless because we are fighting for something greater than us.”
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration runs until 2030, which is also the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals -- the world’s blueprint for a fairer, more resilient world -- and a target date for radical cuts in our global greenhouse gas emissions. Explore UNEP’s work on preserving ecosystems, including forests, coastlines, peatlands and coral reefs.
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