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World Environment Day – 5th June 2024

The history of World Environment Day

World Environment Day was first established by the United Nations at the 1972 Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm (5 – 16 June), which was a landmark in conservation and environmental awareness.  The conference was held as a result of earlier discussions on the integration of human interactions and the environment.   The following year, the first World Environment Day was held on 5th June in Geneva with the theme ‘Only One Earth’.

World Environment Day has since been held in various cities around the world – some notable themes being:[1]

  • 1976 – Water: Vital Resource for Life – Ontario Canada
  • 1979 –  Only One Future for Our Children – Development Without Destruction – Sylhet, Bangladesh
  • 1989 – Global Warming, Global Warning – Brussels, Belgium
  • 1991 – Climate Change – Need for Global Partnership – Stockholm, Sweden
  • 1994 – One Earth, One Family – London, United Kingdom
  • 1999 – Our Earth – Our Future – Just Save It – Tokyo, Japan
  • 2005 – Green Planet – Plant for the Planet! – San Francisco, United States
  • 2016 – Zero Tolerance for the Illegal Wildlife Trade – Luanda, Angola
  • 2018 – Beat Plastic Pollution – New Delhi, India

This year the theme is  ‘land restoration, desertification and drought resilienceand the host city is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Desertification is a type of gradual land degradation of fertile land into arid desert due to a combination of natural processes such as climate change and human activities. [2]

The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 is a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature. The United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations take the lead on it.[3]

The role of women in addressing land restoration, desertification and drought resilience

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)[4], which was adopted thirty years ago in 1994, is the only legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. The Convention focusses specifically on the arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples are located.

The text of the Convention stresses the significant role played by women in regions affected by desertification and/or drought, particularly in rural areas of developing countries.  It also stresses the importance of ensuring men’s and women’s full participation in efforts to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought. For nearly 80 per cent of working women in the least developed countries, agriculture is their primary source of livelihood and women comprise 43 per cent of the world’s agricultural labour force. When land is degraded and usable land becomes scarce, women are differentially and disproportionately affected given their substantial role in agriculture and food production, greater vulnerability to poverty, and typically weaker legal protection and social status.

Parties to the Convention meet in Conferences of the Parties (COP’s) every two years, as well as in technical meetings throughout the year, to advance the aims and ambitions of the Convention and achieve progress in its implementation.  In 2017, when COP was held in Ordos, China, parties adopted a decision on gender equality and women’s empowerment for the enhanced and effective implementation of the Convention.  In 2019,  when COP was held in New Delhi, India,  the UNCCD Secretariat together with the International Union for the Conservation, launched a “Manual for gender-responsive land degradation neutrality transformative projects and programmes”.  The manual was aimed at building on ongoing work to integrate gender perspectives in areas such as land degradation neutrality and drought.

The importance of including the Environment in Education

It is reassuring to see that Climate Action and Biodiversity are now being included in the school curriculum.  After all, it is the future of our young people which will be affected the most if a) we ignore the changes which are taking place in our environment, and b) we fail to educate and help them to do what they can to mitigate the changes in our climate and the impact on biodiversity if we continue to take advantage of both the world’s natural resources and living organisms.

One school which has taken Climate Action and Biodiversity education to the next level with its environmental work is Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School in Canterbury, Kent.

Students, staff and parents have created a small nature reserve in a woodland area within the grounds of the school where there is now a range of habitats, increased biodiversity and improved accessibility for students to allow them to interact with nature as an important part of their school experience.  The wildlife pond pictured above and the willow arch, where students can go for quiet study, or just to enjoy the biodiversity, are just two of the key elements of this amazing nature reserve.

What can we all do to protect our Environment?

The issues surrounding Climate Change, Biodiversity and the impact that we as humans are having on our planet is quite considerable.  As a result, it can so often seem that we are helpless to do anything to preserve our world for future generations.  However, the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London’s hub for climate change and the environment, has developed a leaflet explaining nine things we can all do to protect the natural world[5]:

  • Be a voice for nature.
  • Make your home a haven for native plants and wildlife.
  • Respect and protect natural spaces beyond your home.
  • Eat a nature-friendly diet.
  • Remember the three R’s – Reduce waste and save money by repairing & maintaining items, Reuse items when you can, Recycle as much as possible.
  • Consume less and shop sustainably.
  • Save water.
  • Be a nature-friendly tourist.
  • Learn more about protecting nature – knowledge is power.

Other ways in which you can help are by joining a local conservation or wildlife group, attending an organised event in your area on Environment Day and talking to your children and grandchildren about the importance of protecting our environment and looking after nature – the chances are they will be learning this at school and you might find out they know more than you do!

Yvonne Freeman
Programme Action Officer – SI South East England

[1] World Environment Day – Wikipedia

[2] Desertification – Wikipedia

[3] UN Decade on Restoration

[4] United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification | How we work: Intergovernmental support: Climate change and the environment | UN Women – Headquarters

[5] Leaflet V3 – Outlined Text (