World Environment Day: driving five decades of environmental action

Since its beginning in 1974, World Environment Day has developed into a global platform for raising awareness and taking action on urgent issues from marine pollution and global warming to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime. Millions of people have taken part over the years, helping drive change in our consumption habits as well as in national and international environmental policy. Below are some of the landmarks of World Environment Day through the years.

2013-PRESENT

World Environment Day embraces smaller and less-developed nations while tackling even bigger topics: from sustainable consumption to the illegal trade in wildlife; the annual day of action that began more than 40 years earlier goes viral on social media.


cting rhinos and other endangered species from the illegal trade in wildlife were the focus of World Environment Day 2006.

2016
The day is a springboard for #WildforLife, UN Environment’s biggest-ever digital campaign and a major push to counter international wildlife crime. Host country Angola promises to curb the trading of elephant ivory. China, a key destination for illegal wildlife products, subsequently pledges to close down its domestic ivory market.
2015

World Environment Day goes viral: hosted by Milan, Italy under the theme “Seven Billion People. One Planet. Consume with Care,” it is the most popular subject on Twitter in more than 20 countries; more than 500 videos about World Environment Day are posted on YouTube, including news clips, TV documentaries, event footage, music videos and animations.

2014

The theme “Raise Your Voice Not the Sea Level!” builds awareness of the dangers facing island nations from climate change. The next year, small island states secure agreement at the Paris climate talks to pursue the ambitious goal of limiting the increase in average global temperature to 1.5C.

2003-2012

People around the world register more than 4,000 activities (in 2011) and visit the World Environment Day website more than 4.25 million times (in 2012); the Arab world and the United States play host for the first time;  the day draws attention to climate change for three years straight.

2012

Twenty years after the Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil becomes the first city to host World Environment Day for a second time. The theme of “Green Economy: Does it Include You?” amplifies UN Environment’s Green Economy Initiative. The World Environment Day website records more than 4.25 million visits, a new record.

2011

The first World Environment Day Challenge sees actor Don Cheadle attract more online followers than supermodel Gisele Buendchen, whose forfeit is to create a forest. The following year, Gisele plants the first of 50,000 trees in Rio de Janeiro’s Grumari Municipal Park. People around the world register more than 4,000 activities.

2010

World Environment Day’s Legacy Initiative raises more than $85,000 for gorilla conservation and solar lighting in villages across host country Rwanda. Voters in a global online competition choose names for several baby gorillas, spotlighting their threatened status during the International Year of Biodiversity.

2007

The theme “Melting Ice? – A Hot Topic”, hosted by Tromsø, Norway,  marks the first of three consecutive years in which the day draws attention to climate change, just as the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report stated that warming of the climate is unequivocal.

2006

A decade after the UN Convention to Combat Desertification entered force, World Environment Day delivers a reminder of the pressures on drylands when Algiers, Algeria hosts the celebrations under the slogan “Deserts and Desertification – Don’t Desert Drylands!”

2005

World Environment is held in North America for the first time, with San Francisco hosting hundreds of events around the theme “Green Cities: Plan for the Planet.” Its profile in the year the Kyoto Protocol comes into force is lifted by the participation of former US Vice-President Al Gore and former Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom.

2003

The main celebrations take place in Beirut, Lebanon, a first for the Arab world. The theme of “Water – Two Billion People are Dying for It!” is chosen in support of the International Year of Fresh Water.

1993-2002

Nations accounting for nearly one-third of the world’s population take turns hosting World Environment Day, including China (twice), Russia, Japan and Turkey; the campaign goes digital.


Climate change, including the threat from rising sea levels to areas such as the Mekong Delta, has been the most-visited theme of World Environment Day.

2001

Secretary General Kofi Annan chooses World Environment Day to launch the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, an unprecedented effort to map the health of the planet. Reflecting the theme “Connect with the World Wide Web of Life,” the international festivities took place across several cities: Torino, Italy and Havana, Cuba as well as in Hue, Vietnam and Nairobi, Kenya.

2000

UN Environment launches a fully developed World Environment Day website, making it easy for people around the world to register their activities and building a sense of global community. The Main events took place in Adelaide, Australia under the theme “The Environment Millennium – Time to Act,” ahead of the international summit that set out the Millennium Development Goals.

1998

World Environment Day spotlights threats to our marine ecosystems for the first time, using the theme of “For Life on Earth – Save our Seas” in support of the International Year of the Ocean. Moscow, Russia, hosted the celebrations.

1996

Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa receives a posthumous Global 500 award during WED celebrations in Ankara, Turkey. With the award, World Environment Day throws a spotlight on the link between human and environmental rights.

1995

South Africa plays host a year after Nelson Mandela became president. Mandela attends the celebrations, drawing huge international attention to environmental themes. A year earlier, the anti-apartheid leader used the day to declare Cape Town’s Table Mountain a “gift to the Earth” and proof of South African commitment to protect biodiversity.

1993

China hosts World Environment Day in Beijing, raising environmental awareness in the world’s most populous nation, under the theme “Poverty and the Environment - Breaking the Vicious Circle.” The event returns to China in 2002, hosted by the city of Shenzen.

1983-1992

World Environment Day’s profile grows as it boosts campaigns around major emerging issues including climate change and sustainable development; the official celebrations start rotating around the globe.


Former United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar planting a tree at the UN headquarters in New York on World Environment Day 1986.

1992

World Environment Day is held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the UN Conference on Environment and Development, better known as the Earth Summit. Nations negotiate landmark treaties on climate change, desertification and biodiversity, and set the course for contemporary sustainable development.

1989

A year after the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, celebrations hosted by Brussels, Belgium echo mounting concern about global warming. The theme will be re-visited more than any other in subsequent World Environment Day campaigns.

1988

The main celebrations begin to rotate around the globe, starting in Bangkok, Thailand. The theme of “When People Put the Environment First, Development Will Last” comes a year after the Brundtland Report laid out its influential blueprint for sustainability.

1987

UN Environment marks the day at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, by presenting the first of its Global 500 awards to environmental champions including Wangari Maathai. The prestigious awards become a mainstay of the annual World Environment Day celebrations through 2003.

1986

The theme “A Tree for Peace” coincides with the International Year of Peace. Reflecting World Environment Day’s growing profile, political and religious leaders including French President Francois Mitterand, Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni take part in a “Global Ceremony” by planting a tree and stressing the links between conflict and environmental destruction.

1972-1982

UN designates 5 June as World Environment Day in 1972; two years later, the day is celebrated for the first time under the slogan “Only One Earth.”

1981

The campaign draws attention to how toxic chemicals affect groundwater and food chains. The next year, UN Environment’s Governing Council adopts the Montevideo Programme, setting priorities for global lawmaking that lead to major international agreements restricting or eliminating an array of hazardous chemicals and pollutants.

1979

The theme “Only One Future for Our Children” coincides with the International Year of the Child. For the first time, World Environment Day echoes a UN-designated international year, a pattern that becomes more common as environmental problems rise up the global agenda.

1977

UN Environment uses the day to highlight concern about the ozone layer, setting a trend for World Environment Day to generate vital early momentum on critical environmental issues. It takes another ten years to seal the landmark Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

1974

World Environment Day is celebrated for the first time with the slogan “Only One Earth.”

1972

The UN General Assembly designates 5 June as World Environment Day, marking the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Another resolution, adopted by the General Assembly the same day, leads to the creation of UN Environment.