Time is running out… And, yes, that’s a threat. In 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “We have reached a tipping point on the need for climate action. The disruption to our climate and our planet is already worse than we thought, and it is moving fast.” With the Earth falling short of the targets set by the Paris Agreement, he added, “We must urgently secure a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience.”
That’s where global initiatives, such as World Environment Day, come in to spearhead environmental restoration.
What is World Environment Day?
World Environment Day (WED) was initiated in 1972 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to raise worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment. First celebrated in 1974, WED is held annually on the 5th of June. Every year, the day sees the operation of platforms and forums for businesses, non-government organisations, communities, governments and public figures to advocate environmental causes close to their hearts and in need of our attention. These causes may pertain to marine pollution, human overpopulation, global warming, sustainable consumption and wildlife crime, amongst others.
Assigned to each year is an overarching theme, upon which international WED activities are based, along with a rotating nation and city that acts as the host for the main celebrations. WED’s host countries have ranged from the United States to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Canada, Kenya, Thailand, Belgium, Mexico, China, Australia, England, Mongolia, and many more, testifying to its ever-growing relevance and status. Over 143 countries typically participate in WED. In fact, WED is the largest global platform for environmental public outreach and is celebrated by millions of people worldwide.
This year’s WED was hosted by Sweden, where 122 countries attended the Stockholm+50 meeting convened by the United Nations General Assembly from 2-3 June to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the UNEP and to “share experiences and initiatives to protect the planet and contribute to sustainable and inclusive development”.
What Makes This Year Significant?
The WED 2022 campaign theme is #OnlyOneEarth, which “calls for collective, transformative action on a global scale to celebrate, protect and restore our planet.” The campaign highlights “the need to reset the balance with nature through transformative changes in how people eat, live, work and move around.”
“Only One Earth” hits home for this was the slogan of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment Conference (UNHEC) held in Stockholm back in 1972, which was the genesis of the UNEP formation and, subsequently, the first WED on 5th June 1974, of the same theme. Hence, things have come full circle in some ways. Nevertheless, a triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and waste, and nature and biodiversity loss persists.
Why Does This Matter?
The growing affluence of societies and levels of education implies that one can no longer simply turn a blind eye and continue to leave it up to “others”. Governments and corporations do have essential duties in advancing environmental protection but, while the WED talks go on and the governing bodies and global personalities take their pledges, common folk can also take charge as environmental advocates from the comfort of their very own homes and local communities.
How Can We Help? A Practical Guide
Specially developed for WED 2022, the UNEP’s Practical Guide extensively outlines responsibilities that governments, cities, businesses, faith groups, finance and individuals can play in protecting and restoring our planet.
The following highlights and summarises some of the key actions that individuals, such as yourself, can undertake:
- Invest ethically, such as into energy-positive homes that use efficient cooling systems.
- Divest from companies that exacerbate carbon footprint or resource exploitation.
- Practice habits of conserving energy to reduce emissions and save money in the long run. This could mean supporting responsible manufacturers of green products and – going back to the basics – remembering to turn off lights, air-conditioning and other electronics when not in use.
- With an increasing world population comes increasing pressure on the Earth’s natural resources. Consequently, one must be mindful of one’s food consumption to alleviate the burden on our one and only Earth.
- Making wise consumption choices that are good for the planet can also be just as good for the mind, body and soul. Consider eating as balanced a diet as possible by incorporating more local and plant-based produce into one’s everyday diet. Likewise, avoid produce that isn’t in season and/or has been imported over longer distances.
- Be rational about the amount of food that one purchases. Buy only what one needs at the grocery, pack any leftovers at restaurants, compost any scraps at home.
- For those who wish to go the extra mile and have the means to, why not try one’s hand at growing your own produce? It makes for a therapeutic and rewarding experience as one learns to nurture their plants under the best conditions and saves money due to the absence of transport and packaging costs.
- This is about making smart consumer choices that contribute toward a circular and sustainable economy.
- Choose natural and sustainable products from manufacturers that support ecosystems and local communities.
- Say goodbye to single-use plastics, including plastic straws, bags and cutlery.
- Purchase only what one really needs and consider buying more secondhand, thrifted goods. Similarly, before discarding a product, consider whether it can be recycled or repurposed, or if it may find a new home in which it is loved.
- Avoid consumption of fast fashion, which perpetuates the sourcing of cheap labour in low-income countries. Instead, purchase quality clothing that one foresees becoming a staple in their closet for years and years to come. With a bit of creativity, used clothing can be just as stylish. After all, fashion is cyclical!
- Stay active by engaging in physical activity, which can be as simple as targeting the recommended 10,000 steps per day. Although we, as Sunwayians, may have the convenience of the free Sunway shuttle bus, we also have the more environmentally friendly route that is the Sunway canopy walk. Indeed, we are blessed to have covered canopy walkways that bridge the various commercial buildings of Sunway City KL, a simple yet thoughtful development of the integrated green township.
- Increasing the use of public walkways, cycle lanes and sidewalks in general will further demonstrate to government bodies that there is a growing demand and necessity for infrastructure geared towards cutting vehicle pollution and road congestion.
- Where walking or cycling isn’t too practical, take public transport or carpool. Not only would this cut down on the amount of carbon emissions but also cut down on the costs of driving through KL and Sunway traffic by oneself.
- Partake in recreational activities that release less pollution and minimise environmental footprint.
- Get in tune with nature by being involved in ecosystem restoration initiatives, whether that entails taking part in a camp, club or programme dedicated to ecological restoration. Besides, restoration activities are most fun when undertaken with a group of like-minded, passionate friends. In the process of healing nature, one may heal themselves!
6. Raise your voice
- Advocate for change – sign petitions, raise discussions and hold businesses accountable to clear commitments. Urge corporations to join net-zero coalitions and accelerate transformative changes.
WED to some, may serve as an annual reminder that our Earth needs a little TLC again, but isn’t it neat that we can continue to care for our Earth throughout the year? It all starts with making more sustainable personal choices and taking the initiative to learn a bit more each day on how one can live in harmony with nature – perhaps even going beyond the UNEP’s Practical Guide. In time, one may find that sustainable living becomes an enjoyable, exciting, educational way of life.
With the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of Sunway’s operations, as well as the introduction of compulsory General Studies subjects focused on environmental sustainability and the establishment of the Sunway Centre for Planetary Health and Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development, more and more students have access to and privilege of being equipped with informational, instrumental and emotional support on this journey towards preserving our one and only Earth, together.
Echo believes its readers have the power to reshape local and national economies and drive transformative change, as responsible global citizens from the classroom into the workplace.
Love Letters to the Environment
Last but not least, here are some WED videos to inspire, motivate and empower…
- We have Only One Earth (World Environment Day 2022)
- This World Environment Day 2022, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen calls for action
- Highlights from World Environment Day 2021
- Time for Nature – WED 2020 PSA
- #DoorwayToGreen by Tata Pravesh
Written by: Michelle Cheong
Edited by: Maki