The United Nations now has many days devoted to the environment—days for water, biodiversity, forests, wildlife, fisheries, and more (many are described in this calendar). But the granddaddy of them all was established on June 5 – World Environment Day.
The United Nations began to take environmental matters seriously in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their concern culminated in the first major conference sponsored by the UN that addressed the condition of the environment. The “Conference on the Human Environment” was held in Stockholm, Sweden, during June 5-16, 1972. Now generally referred to as the “Stockholm Conference,” the gathering included representatives from 113 nations, featured 86 national reports, made 109 recommendations for global action, and unanimously passed the Declaration on the Human Environment. Among the 26 principles in the declaration, the second sums up the essence of the need: “The natural resources of the earth, including the air, water, land, flora and fauna and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, must be safeguarded for the benefit of present and future generations through careful planning or management, as appropriate.”
Later in 1972, the UN chose June 5, the starting date of the Stockholm Conference, as the permanent date for World Environment Day. The day is designed for the world’s nations to “undertake … activities reaffirming their determination expressed at the Conference.” Even more importantly, the results of the Stockholm Conference led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the major UN body focused on a sustainable global environment.
The first World Environment Day was celebrated on June 5, 1972, as part of Expo ’74, a world’s fair held in Spokane, Washington. World fairs were popular in the years after World War II, as people looked forward to the benefits of modern technology—electronics, chemicals, air travel, nuclear energy, and many others. So, world fairs generally worshipped a rosy human-dominated civilization, with little concern for the natural environment. Expo ’74 took a different approach, however, recognizing the emerging environmental movement. This world fair emphasized caring for the environment—the theme was “Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment.”
World Environment Day has been celebrated annually since then, with the 47th iteration scheduled for June 5, 2020. The core site is Colombia, in partnership with Germany. The theme for 2020 focuses on biodiversity, making biodiversity-rich Colombia an ideal site for the topic. Nearly 150 countries participate annually in World Environment Day; in 2019, more than 200 events occurred across the globe as part of the focused on air pollution.
So, on this day, why not spend a little time thinking about the environment, both near and far—and most importantly, why not do something that reduces our environmental footprint—both near and far?
Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest. Lesson Twenty-six: Spokane’s Expo ’74; A World’s Fair for the Environment. Available at: http://www.washington.edu/uwired/outreach/cspn/Website/Classroom%20Materials/Pacific%20Northwest%20History/Lessons/Lesson%2026/26.html. Accessed February 18, 2020.
Library of Congress. Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. Available at: http://webarchive.loc.gov/all/20150314024203/http%3A//www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?documentid%3D97%26articleid%3D1503. Accessed February 18, 2020.
UNEP. World Environment Day: driving five decades of environmental action. Available at: https://www.worldenvironmentday.global/about/world-environment-day-driving-five-decades-environmental-action. Accessed February 18, 2020.
United Nations. World Environment Day, June 5. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/events/environmentday/background.shtml. Accessed February 18, 2020.