On June 5, 1972, delegates from 114 countries gathered in Stockholm for a landmark United Nations conference, the first-ever to focus on the environment. Some key decisions were made there that firmly put the planet on the political agenda.
Twenty-six principles on environmental protection and human rights were outlined in The Stockholm Declaration. Six months later, the UN Environmental Programme, or UNEP, was established. And June 5 was designated as World Environment Day, with the aim of annually reaffirming the commitment to protecting the natural world.
World Environment Day was first celebrated in 1974. As the decades rolled by, hopes of gaining the international political momentum needed to avert runaway climate change have taken some serious knocks. Some of the principles of the Stockholm Declaration – that damaging pollution must be prevented, and that natural resources and wildlife must be safeguarded, for example – seem like empty promises when viewed from a global perspective, particularly in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is “Time for Nature”. It is a call to celebrate biodiversity just as the pandemic has highlighted our disregard for it. Activities such as habitat destruction, hunting and livestock farming lead to increased contact with animals. They are the source of three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases in humans. A new one appears every four months.
Today, World Environment Day 2020, is an opportune moment to make time for nature and to be thankful for the many benefits it provides – breathable air, drinkable water, nutritious food, carbon storage, a habitable climate and storm protection to name a few.
Except, of course, we are destroying the natural support systems on which we depend. Our insatiable demand for resources – from food to fuel, water to minerals – is putting such pressure on the planet that ecosystems are collapsing. The area they occupy has been slashed nearly in half. Without them, Earth becomes uninhabitable.
We interviewed Rhamis Kent, co-director of the Permaculture Research Institute, for last year’s series of earthrise. His words have stayed with me. “Ecosystem collapse is akin to organ failure in our own bodies. If enough of the organs that make up the terrestrial body are removed or are made sick, the body dies.”
Given how vital these ecosystems are for our own survival, failing to take care of them is not only a potentially fatal act of sabotage but also suicidal.
In these five films, we explore some of the planet’s ecosystems most deeply threatened by climate change and biodiversity loss. And we meet the people who are passionate about protecting them and safeguarding the natural services they provide.
Coral reefs are home to 25 percent of marine life. This biodiversity is not only a vital source of food for millions of people but also of new medicines for diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s and viral infections. But 50 percent of coral reefs have died in the past 50 years.
In Hawaii, marine biologists have established a seed bank where coral sperm and stem cells are cryogenically frozen in a bid to safeguard these invertebrates’ genetic diversity for the future.