With information from the UN
We can expect awareness raising, clean-up projects, tree-planting, and advocacy to reduce carbon emissions, next Wednesday, April 22, as millions globally celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Perhaps you have planned an ecologically friendly activity for that day.
What began half a century ago as a means of promoting awareness and education about the environment has grown exponentially. Earth Day’s theme is climate action.
Coinciding with Earth Day is the United Nations’ International Mother Earth Day. The UN designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day 11 years ago. The theme this year relates to biodiversity, although the UN has also engaged in continuous efforts to address climate change.
The UN considers International Mother Earth Day a collective responsibility, as called for in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, to promote harmony with nature and Earth. Such harmony can help achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations.
This year’s International Mother Earth Day coincides with the Super Year of Biodiversity, and is focused on biodiversity’s role as an indicator of Earth’s health. Representatives met in Rome in February to plan a course of action for safeguarding biodiversity. As part of the Super Year of Biodiversity, the UN will highlight updates from around the UN system, calling attention to the fact that the future of humanity depends on action now.
WHY BIODIVERSITY AS A THEME
Why biodiversity? One reason is that we are currently witnessing the potential extinction of approximately a million species of plants and animals, according to a 2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). This rate is more than 1,000 times greater than at any other time recorded in human history. The report also reflects that seventy-five per cent of Earth’s land surface is significantly altered, 66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts, and over 85 per cent of wetlands (area) have been lost. We have only to think of constant deforestation of the Amazon as an example of human impact upon ecosystems.
Last year, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres said of biodiversity, “We need healthy ecosystems to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and to address climate change: they can provide 37 % of the mitigation needed to limit global temperature rise.”
According to the UN, The loss of biodiversity can have significant direct human health impacts if ecosystem functions are no longer adequate to meet social needs. Indirectly, changes in ecosystem services affect livelihoods, income, local migration and, on occasion, may even cause political conflict.
A very relevant link between biodiversity (and impairments to it) and Earth’s health relates to the current COVID-19 crisis and other zoonotic diseases. A new infectious disease emerges in humans every 4 months, according to the UN’s Environment Program. Three fourths of them come from animals (as apparently did COVID-19). A healthier ecosystem would make it more difficult for pathogens to spread rapidly.
Climate change, man-made changes to nature as well as crimes that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change, intensified agriculture and livestock production or the growing illegal wildlife trade, can increase contact and the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans (zoonotic diseases) like COVID-19, the UN notes.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PROMOTE BETTER BIODIVERSITY?
What can you do to help improve biodiversity? Some ideas include volunteering to create or maintain nature preserves; buying sustainable products; encouraging legislators to take action to protect biodiversity; protecting bees; reducing the use of fertilizers, and staying on pathways along hiking trails.
WHAT DOES THE UN DO FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
The UN regularly addresses the environment and ecosystems in a variety of ways. Its Environment Program assesses global, regional, and national environmental conditions and trends. It develops international and national environmental instruments, and strengthens institutions for wise management of the environment. Its work falls into seven broad categories: climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, chemicals and waste, resource efficiency, and environment under review. It operates with a view of sustainability.
In 1994, the UN initiated the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). Its focus is to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.
The UN also commemorates annual days and schedules events to raise awareness about such topics as water, oceans, biodiversity, forests, rivers, mountains, wildlife, the environment as a whole, preservation of the ozone, habitats, and more. The UN Environment Programme annually honors Champions of the Earth; those who come up with bold and creative ideas for environmental justice, environmental protection, and the defense of natural resources.
The United Nations Environmental Assembly meets biennially in Nairobi, Kenya, to set priorities for global environmental policies and develop international environmental law. It is the governing body of the UN’s Environmental Programme. First meeting in 2014, it has convened four sessions. The next takes place from February 22-26, 2021.
In 2017, the UN launched its Faith for Earth Initiative. It inspires faith organizations to advocate for protecting the environment and supporting the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and encourages faith leaders to communicate with decision makers and the public.
The UN engages in many more environmental activities.
UN AND CLIMATE CHANGE
In addition to biodiversity—this year’s theme of International Mother Earth Day–climate change (Earth Day’s theme) has been a continuous UN focus. The United Nations Climate Change Conferences (known as COP, or Conferences of the Parties) are normally held annually. (COP 26, planned to take place in Glasgow in November, has been postponed).
It was during the 2015 COP meeting that member states approved the Paris Agreement, which united nations in addressing climate change. The Agreement’s purpose was to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to try to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
At the last COP meeting, held in December in Madrid, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres cautioned that the world has the scientific knowledge and technical means to limit climate change but lacked the political will.
“The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” Guterres told reporters gathered in Madrid, “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.” He has called climate change an “emergency.”
The UN’s Emissions Gap Report 2019 (by the UN Environment Programme) focuses on progress related to climate action. The Report shows that the world is not on target to reduce the level of emissions called for in the Paris Agreement. It also shows that G20 countries account for 78 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. (The G20 includes 19 countries and the European Union). The Report can be accessed in various languages at this link: https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2019
However we celebrate Earth Day or International Mother Earth Day, let’s all do one thing to ensure that the beauty and sustainability of Earth is protected for those generations which follow us.