World Environment Day
“Let’s nurture the nature so that we can have a better future.”
In 1972, the United Nations’ General Assembly designated the 5th June as World Environment Day, with the aim of raising awareness about the problems facing the environment. The very first celebration took place in 1974, under the slogan “Only One Earth”. Over the past fifty years, millions of people from across the world have engaged in this UN international day to protect our planet, by addressing environmental challenges such as air pollution, plastic pollution, human overpopulation, global warming, illegal wildlife trade and sustainable consumption, among others.
Each year, this day focuses on a different theme, which is endorsed by major corporations and communities, to address pertinent environmental issues. In 2020, Colombia hosted the World Environment Day, with the main focus being to protect biodiversity. With the COVID-19 crisis, caused by the rapid destruction of habitats, serving as the backdrop, many world leaders called on governments worldwide to support a new global goal to protect 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030. In 2021, the theme focused on ecosystem restoration. It is estimated that every six seconds the amount of tropical forest lost across the globe is equivalent to the area of a football pitch, while half of all wetlands have been destroyed over the last century. Scientists estimated that 50% of the coral reefs have already been lost due to acidification caused by global warming and the world faces the grim prospect of losing 90% of its coral reefs by 2050, even if global warming is limited to an increase of 1.5oC. Proposals for ecosystem restorations included planting trees, greening cities, cleaning up rivers and coasts as well as changing diets, by consuming less meat.
This year’s World Environment Day global campaign is calling for transformative policy changes to reduce pollution, by shifting towards a greener lifestyle while living sustainably and in harmony with nature. On 2nd and 3rd June, Sweden, the host country for this year, along with support from the Government of Kenya and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), will be organizing a high-level international meeting called “Stockholm+50: a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity”.
However, before we look at the rest of the world, it is important that we start with protecting our own environment. It’s no secret that Malta’s air pollution is among the worst in Europe, with the island having the fourth highest levels of particles in the air compared to all Member States. Although Malta has significantly reduced its emissions in power generation, it needs to reduce emissions from the transport and building sectors to reach its 2030 targets. Transitioning to a green lifestyle will not be a walk in the park, however the road map is there and this requires not only a shift in our economic model, but also a shift in our behaviour as citizens. Environmental consciousness is at an all-time high nowadays, and there is a lot of awareness about how we can protect the environment in our daily lives. Promoting sustainable behaviour in our circles of family and friends, can bring a mindset change, which can lead to policy changes. Here are some ideas how one can live a more sustainable lifestyle:
- Saving energy and reducing carbon emissions: this can be done by switching off standby appliances, turning the heating down, switching off appliances when not in use and hanging on clothes to dry, instead of using a drier. Enemalta estimates that switching off stand-by appliances can save you up to €80 per year.
- Car-free days – drive less: cars account for 60% of carbon dioxide emissions, thus taking the car off the road for at least one day a week can help reduce the carbon dioxide emissions significantly. Choosing to walk or to ride a bicycle will account for a healthier lifestyle and also reduce the number of cars on the road. Using public transport and carpooling can also help to reduce our carbon footprint.
- Consuming less meat: meat production is one of the major contributors of climate change. Thus introducing meat-free days during the week and consuming more vegetables, not only leads to a healthier lifestyle but also reduces the impact that the meat industry has on climate change.
- Reduce, reuse and recycle: swapping single-use plastic to reusable and eco-friendly alternatives can go a long way to reducing the impacts of plastic pollution in landfills and our oceans. It is also important to reuse products as many times as possible before throwing them away to reduce waste in landfills. Furthermore, it is important to recycle by placing rubbish in the correct bins and taking out the rubbish on designated days.
- Go paperless: a number of supermarkets tend to post newsletters in our letterbox, which end up in our bins. Thus, to avoid wasting paper, you can put a sign on your letterbox to refuse these newsletters and choose to receive letters/vouchers/ newsletters over email, and only print off necessary documents.
- Using renewable energy: since we live on a Mediterranean Island bathed in glorious sunshine it is a good idea to invest in solar panels, which are a good way of powering the home. Although this can be expensive to set up, it is a long term investment. Replacing a petrol or diesel-fueled car with an electric one is also a good way of reducing global emissions.
- Save water: clean freshwater is essential for a healthy lifestyle, however 1.1 billion people lack access to water and around 2.7 billion people experience water scarcity at least one month per year. Since water is becoming a scarce resource, it is important to save water around the house. For example, water that drains from air condition units can be used to water plants, wash utensils or vehicles. Reducing the amount of time you spend in the shower to 4 minutes, and by turning off the tap while brushing your teeth can save up to 400 litres of water per month.
This planet is our home and humanity must do its best to safeguard its finite resources. However, experts say that if we made one small change today, collectively it will make a big difference for all our tomorrows. So… start small… start now… We have #OnlyOneEarth.