World Environment Day celebrations arced across the planet on Monday, from a Jack Johnson concert in Canada and beach clean-ups on six continents to landmarks from China to Dubai turning green in solidarity with nature.
Johnson and actor Adrian Grenier kicked off events on Sunday, calling on people around the world to connect with nature, appreciate how it sustains us, and make sure we do more to keep it safe.
“I encourage you all to get out there, get in nature, get in the ocean,” Grenier, who is also a strong advocate for ocean protection, said before Johnson took the stage in Toronto. “We can become a sea of change.”
The concert was a starting gun for thousands of World Environment Day activities rolling out across the planet, many of them linked to this year’s theme of ‘connecting people with nature.’ Nearly 1,700 events have been registered with UN Environment – likely a fraction of the overall total.
Canada was a focus because of its role as the official host of this year’s celebrations. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna joined UN Environment chief Erik Solheim to connect with nature by paddling kayaks a safe distance from the famed Niagara Falls.
“Any day I get to kick off with a paddle is a great day,” Trudeau said, urging people to “go outside and connect with the environment we are fighting for.”
“The future is still bright for those who have the courage to confront hard truths … Canada will not back down from our commitment to fight climate change, and we are not alone,” he said.
Solheim thanked Canada and other countries for providing leadership on environmental protection in the wake of the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
With tech companies and financial giants also swinging behind sustainability, Solheim said there were reasons for optimism, and urged people to adopt French premier Emmanuel Macron’s slogan and “make the planet great again.”
As he spoke, thousands of people across six continents were joining clean-ups on beaches, riverbanks and in the mountains, including on the US/Mexico border in Tijuana as well as in Spain, Lebanon, the Greek Islands, Australia, Norway, Canada, Tanzania and even the Arctic.
In India, Bollywood stars, politicians and hundreds of schoolchildren helped plant 500 palm trees along Versova Beach in Mumbai, along with UN Champion of the Earth Afroz Shah, the culmination of a massive 18-month clean-up there.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi cited the clean-up as inspiration for a massive overhaul of India’s waste management system. Starting 5 June, authorities will install colour-coded litter bins in 4,000 towns across India to encourage recycling.
In Brazil, 4,500 runners in World Environment Day t-shirts raced through the jaguar-haunted Atlantic forests of Iguaçu National Park. "The nature of the park was the fuel that made us get to the end, and do it well," said Orlando Javier, the Paraguayan who won the half-marathon.
Showing how World Environment Day can catalyze change, Angola marked the day by burning more than a ton of elephant ivory. The move underlined a commitment to fighting wildlife crime made when it hosted the official celebrations in 2016.
Song Jia, a UN Environment advocate in China, took climbed onto a bicycle and pedalled around Beijing’s Tongzhou Park along with 150 officials and other visitors to promote green commuting and a closer relationship between people and nature.
Among the many grassroots events, students in Ibadan, Nigeria took a stand against pollution with a ‘March for Nature’. In the Italian city of Spoleto, experts with ultrasonic detectors were leading walkers around its medieval fortress in search of bats. Kids played ‘Environmental Detectives’ at a resort on the Thai island of Phuket; and Australians enjoyed a day of food, arts and action at the World Environment Day Festival in Sunshine Coast, Queensland, now in its 38th year.
At the global level, UN Environment invited social media users to follow the examples of UN Environment Goodwill Ambassadors Gisele Bündchen and Don Cheadle, and post photos of their favourite natural places to create the World's Biggest Nature Photo Album.
In a BioBlitz organized with iNaturalist, UN Environment is encouraging people to become citizen scientists from 1-12 June by mapping Earth’s amazing diversity of plants and animals. So far, nearly 5,000 people have submitted 50,000 observations. Experts use the data to identify species at risk.
Several countries used the day to make big announcements. Hossa - a mosaic of dark, primeval forests and fish-filled waters - will become Finland’s 40th national park; Jordan upgraded its Aqaba Marine Park on the Red Sea to the status of a “natural reserve” to protect its coral reefs; Chile is establishing two new marine parks that lift its marine protected area to 1 million square kilometres; and Bosnia and Herzegovina is doubling the size of its protected areas.
Bosnia and Herzogovina It is one of 10 countries making it easier to connect with nature by giving free entrance to national parks. Canada is granting free entrance passes for the whole of 2017.
And as dusk swept across the planet, dozens of landmarks and iconic buildings were illuminated in green in a show of solidarity with the environment, from the Water Cube in Beijing to the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio. In New York, Adrian Grenier threw the switch to light up the Empire State Building in green.
Celebrated around 5 June each year, World Environment Day is the largest global day for positive environmental action. This year’s theme highlights the vast benefits, from food security and improved health to water supply and climatic stability, that clean environments provide to humanity.