World Environment Day


By: Suzanne Elston


Ask any schoolchild when Earth Day is, and theyŐll likely give you the right answer. Ask them the same question about World Environment Day, and youŐll probably get a blank stare in return. In fairness to the kids, itŐs really not their fault. Despite the fact that World Environment Day was established by the United Nations back in 1972, itŐs largely a non-event in Canada.  I suspect that is this because many of the functions and celebrations of the United Nations are often focused on need – something few Canadians know anything about. Programs like World Environment Day, World AIDS Day and other UN programs donŐt even enter our radar because we live in a land of such bounty and privilege.


Perhaps itŐs time for a little history lesson. The United Nations General Assembly established June 5 as World Environment Day in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. On the same day the UN General Assembly passed another resolution that led to the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (or UNEP), arguably the most important vehicle we have for dealing with global environmental problems.


According to the UN, the purpose of World Environment Day is to stimulate worldwide awareness of the environment and enhance political attention and action. The 2006 theme, Deserts and Desertification, was chosen because on the UN calendar, 2006 is also the International Year of Deserts and Desertification. (Bet you didnŐt know that, either – I sure didnŐt.)


With predictions that catastrophic climate change might be just around the corner, this yearŐs theme couldnŐt be more timely – particularly for Canadians. Alberta and Saskatchewan are already suffering through record drought conditions and much of southern Alberta has been engulfed in uncontrolled forest fires for weeks. If this keeps up, CanadaŐs breadbasket may soon become part of the vast drylands of the Earth, which already cover more than 40 percent of planetŐs surface.


What I find astonishing is that these arid lands are already home to more than two billion people, or one-third of the worldŐs population, most of whom are the most vulnerable members of the family of man.


 ŇFor most dryland dwellers, life is hard and the future often precarious,Ó said UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. ŇThey live on the ecological, economic and social margins.  It is essential that we do not neglect them or the fragile habitats on which they depend.Ó


It may already be to late. With human activity already altering the climate at an unprecedented rate, many of these arid regions are becoming the worldŐs political hotspots. Civil wars are raging in many countries where fundamental resources such as food and water are scarce.


ŇAcross the planet, poverty, unsustainable land management and climate change are turning drylands into deserts, and desertification in turn exacerbates and leads to poverty,Ó said Annan. ŇThere is also mounting evidence that dryland degradation and competition over increasingly scarce resources can bring communities into conflict. Furthermore, people whose livelihoods and survival depend on drylands are swelling the ranks of environmental and economic refugees who are testing the already stretched resources of towns and cities across the developing world.Ó


Clearly, this is a major problem that requires our concerted attention. The suffering of two billion souls cannot go unheard. To bring it even closer to home, the mounting death toll of our Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan bears witness to the fact that unrest anywhere in the world affects us all.


ThereŐs much to be done. For starters, we can begin by learning more about World Environment Day and finding out what other countries around the world are doing to celebrate. ItŐs both interesting and embarrassing to note that Canada doesnŐt even appear on UNŐs list of countries that are planning World Environment Day activities. Even the US is hosting seven major events.


If youŐre stuck for ideas or need inspiration, the official UNEP website features The World Environment Day Alphabet which offers 77 ways to celebrate. This A to Z listing has suggestions for everything from Awareness Days to Zero Emissions. The list is inspiring and a clear reminder of exactly how much more we Canadians could be doing to protect Mother Earth.




For more information about World Environment Day, including The World Environment Day Alphabet, visit The United Nations Environment Programme


United Nations Convetion to Combat Desertification