Climate Change

Explainer: What is World Environment Day?

A close view of a plant

Millions of people from across the world participate in World Environment Day Image: Unsplash/Matthew Smith

Douglas Broom
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Climate Change

  • Humanity is using up the world’s resources faster than they can naturally recover, says the UN.
  • World Environment Day, on 5 June, is a global event to celebrate and encourage action on the climate crisis.
  • The cost of climate adaptation in developing nations is now estimated to be $500 billion a year.
  • CO2 emissions will need to halve by 2030, the UN says, to avoid temperature rises of 2.7C and higher by the end of the century.

We’re running out of time to save our planet - using up the equivalent of 1.6 Earths to maintain our current way of life - and nature simply cannot keep up with our demands. That’s the message from the organizers of World Environment Day 2022 on 5 June.

What is World Environment Day?

First held in 1973, World Environment Day is described as “a global platform for inspiring positive change” by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the organization that created it.

It is now the largest global environmental event, with millions of people in more than 150 countries participating. The idea is to engage “governments, businesses, civil society, schools, celebrities, cities and communities [in] raising awareness and celebrating environmental action”.

The 2022 World Environment Day, hosted by Sweden, campaigns for “collective, transformative action on a global scale to celebrate, protect and restore our planet”, encouraging everyone, everywhere, to live sustainably and take action on the climate crisis.

This year marks 50 years since the first global environment summit. The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm led to the founding of UNEP.

An close view of an insect
The UN Environment Programme says we are running out of time to save our planet. Image: Unsplash/Patti Black

UNEP says that, despite a raft of climate agreements, progress towards halting climate change is still too slow and individuals and civil society must play a key role in raising awareness and urging governments and the private sector to make large-scale changes.


Closing the adaptation gap

The cost of climate change is rising, says Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, as is the gap between what is being spent to adapt to climate change and what is needed. As recently as 2014, the cost of adaptation in developing nations was estimated at $100 billion a year. Today that figure is $500 billion.

To limit the rise in global temperature, which is driving climate change, to 1.5C, worldwide CO2 emissions will need to halve by 2030, UNEP says. If there is no change in current plans, temperatures will be 2.7C higher by the end of the century.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022 rated climate action failure as the most severe risk facing the world over the next decade, a risk it said had been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A chart showing the date of Earth Overshoot Day if the world's population lived like the following countries
Countries are using up resources far faster than they can be replenished. Image: Statista

What is Earth Overshoot Day?

Another way of measuring how humanity is using Earth’s resources faster than they can be replaced is Earth Overshoot Day, the day in the year on which the world stops living sustainably. The earlier in the year it falls, the more unsustainable life on Earth becomes.

It is calculated annually by the Global Footprint Network (GFN) by dividing the amount of resources Earth can generate in a given year by human demand for resources in that year. In 2021 it was 29 July. The global slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic pushed 2020 Earth Overshoot Day back to 22 August. The date for 2022 has yet to be calculated.

For World Environment Day 2022, the theme #OnlyOneEarth, which was used at the first global environment gathering in 1972, is being revived. Sweden will also host an international conference called Stockholm+50 to accelerate climate action.

Across the world, events are planned from seminars and concerts to beach and countryside clean-ups. Brussels will be staging a city environment festival, while Mumbai will stage the Green Ride Cyclothon to promote a more sustainable way to travel.

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Related topics:
Climate ChangeFuture of the EnvironmentSustainable Development
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