World Environment Day – Looking Back and Moving Forward

June 5 is World Environment Day, begun by the United Nations 40 years ago to celebrate positive environmental action. This year’s host country for World Environment Day is Brazil, which is the site later this month for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Nearly 9,000 activities have been registered on the WED site, ranging from a neighborhood soccer match in Chicago to a Corporate Greening Gala fundraiser in Namibia to a tree planting in Pune, India. (You can even send a Care2 World Environment Day e-card.)

World Environment Day is just a small part of the United Nations Environment Program and other agencies’ work for environmental protection and environmental justice. Since its founding in 1972, the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) has been active in the negotiations of numerous international agreements centered on environmental protection. This video briefly describes some of the milestones accomplished in the past 40 years; milestones in the control of trade in toxic chemicals, fostering biodiversity, establishing protected areas and linking environmental justice and  human rights. UNEP created this video to highlight some of the complex international agreements, laboriously negotiated over years, that have led to progress on environmental protection:


It is all too easy to dismiss the grainy footage of earnest people in suits, the intricate bureaucracy and endless rounds of talks that entail action by the U.N.  But for problems as globally encompassing and complex as environmental protection and climate change, international cooperation is essential

Underlying these international agreements is the understanding that human activities and commerce cannot continue with business as usual, without regard to the destruction of the natural world.  This need to take a longer-term view of the consequences of human activity is encapsulated in the definition of sustainable development agreed to  by the 1987 with the publication of the Brundtland Commission’s report, entitled Our Common Future:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. It contains two key concepts:

  • the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”

More recently, UNEP’s activities have focused on the need to decouple growth from the concept of economic prosperity, a necessary idea in a world of limited resources and a population of 9 billion people and growing, and one that will not easily find acceptance among world leaders and financiers.

Clearly the UN still has much work to do. Absent any better way to come to global consensus, or near consensus, on complex global problems, it seems appropriate for the organization and its constituents to pause to remember and appreciate its achievements this World Environment Day, and then settle back to work for the approaching Rio+20 Conference.


Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo3 years ago

Thank you for the excellent post! Each and everyone of us must do everything we can to save the environment! I don't turn the air conditioner on until the temperature in the house hits eighty-five, unless I have company, and I have my own personal summers as it is, but I manage. I also keep lights off when I'm not using them. I've reduced our energy usage by 23% in the last two or three years. We have CFL bulbs in every lamp and light fixture, and we gradually replaced old televisions with the newer models that use significantly less energy. We also use power strips to turn off vampire electronics. Now I want to get rain barrels and a compost bin.

Raj S.
Raj S.4 years ago

I think we should celebrate the WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY for whole year (i.e.., 365 days) which brings the change in nature and environment of universe .......................

Harshiita Sharma
Harshita Sharma4 years ago

World Environment Day is everyday!!!It should not be mere symbolic but full of action!

Harshiita Sharma
Harshita Sharma4 years ago

World Environment Day is everyday!!!It should not be mere symbolic but full of action!

Isabel A.
Isabel Araujo4 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Linda Rust
Past Member 4 years ago

Contact to find out what you can do. It's not too late, not yet, but we all have to work together, and we have to start now.

Shelly Peterson
Shelly Peterson4 years ago

Green economy, is the ONLY ECONOMY for anyone in 2012 and on...otherwise it is a mass WorldWide Depression!!...and every moment counts..RIGHT NOW, AS THERE IS NO LATER!!

Carole R.
Carole R.4 years ago

World Envionment Day should be every day.

Dave C.
David C.4 years ago

all we can do is try our best to give those in the future the same beautiful earth we have had the chance to have.

Edgard Mourao
Edgard Mourao4 years ago

Thanks a lot for sharing!