How you can act on pressing environmental issues
In 1972, Sweden hosted the first world conference to make the environment a major issue. Fifty years later, the country is preparing to host World Environment Day in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The theme - ‘Only One Earth’ - will highlight the possibilities for shifting to more sustainable, greener lifestyles.
We spoke to Aoibheann O’Sullivan, World Environment Day Coordinator for the UN Environment Programme, about this year’s theme, how the world has changed since the 1972 conference, and ways in which people around the world can make their own positive impact on the environment.
Why is the theme ‘Only One Earth’ particularly relevant to the world we live in today?
‘Only One Earth’ was the slogan for the 1972 Stockholm Conference, widely seen as the first global meeting on the environment; 50 years on this truth still holds – this planet is our only home. While many gains have been made, right now we are facing a triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and waste, driven by human activity and unsustainable patterns of consumption and production.
Because this crisis affects every country on this planet, the 2022 World Environment Day #OnlyOneEarth campaign emphasizes that overcoming it requires a global response. While our individual choices do make a difference, collective action is much more transformative. Together we need to make immediate and profound change to advance to a more sustainable and just Earth, where everyone can flourish.
How has the world changed, for better or worse, since the 1972 Stockholm Conference?
There has been much progress made on environmental issues in the past fifty years, including the landmark ratification of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, the adoption in 2015 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, and the 2021 launch of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. But there is still work to be done. There is far more awareness of the negative impact of humanity on our planet than there was in 1972, yet a significant amount of damage has been done in the last fifty years. And time is running out: we have less than ten years to make real change, so the time for concrete action is now.
What makes Sweden well suited to hosting this year’s World Environment Day?
2022 is a historic milestone for the global environmental community. Fifty years ago Sweden hosted the landmark 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment. Since then, Sweden has made significant strides when it comes to both protecting the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The country has set ambitious goals to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045, and has embraced renewable energy. It is among the frontrunners for greening its economy and is rapidly transforming to low-carbon and renewable infrastructures and technologies, from subsidizing solar cells, electric vehicles and charging points to supporting private sector and municipal investments reducing climate impact. In early June 2022, the high-level Stockholm+50 international meeting will be held in Sweden, a few days before World Environment Day on 5th June.
What kinds of initiatives do you expect will be showcased this year?
Along with individual lifestyle actions, the #OnlyOneEarth campaign will focus on pushing the levers of power and finance to support real solutions for people and our planet. We want individuals, businesses, academia, local and national governments, financial institutions, and community groups to share their transformative actions and commitments for how they are safeguarding our planet. This could be everything from switching banks to one that invests in environmental sustainability, or supporting companies that are eliminating waste from their supply chain. Perhaps it will be a city promoting a new, sustainable transport initiative, or a government announcing a ban of single-use plastic.
How can regular people participate in World Environment Day?
People are drivers of change through their support for businesses and governments. The actions of these larger entities can have an impact at scale, potentially locking in sustainable consumption and production behaviors for decades to come. From April to June, we ask that you, your school, work, community group or city share a three line social media post with a photo or video of your transformative actions or EARTH ACTION NUMBERS to showcase how you are helping to protect and restore the planet. When you submit the action, start each of the first two sentences with a number, and then end with #OnlyOneEarth. Here are some Earth Action Number examples:
How can people around the world take action on pressing environmental issues?
World Environment Day 2022 is the perfect time to take action and to push for transformative impact. Environmental multilateralism works, and global partnerships and collaboration for the planet are more urgent than ever. It’s easy to take part. You could organize a community event to restore your local ecosystem; join, donate to or volunteer for an organization that is protecting and restoring nature; advocate for policies at the local and national level to safeguard our oceans and clean our air. Reach out to politicians, businesses, and community groups, and ask them what they are doing to protect the planet, and what they are doing to mark World Environment Day.