For far too long, humans have been exploiting and destroying the ecosystem. Statics show the alarming rate at which our planet is losing the forest area. According to a report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 420 million hectares of forest have been lost to conversion to other land uses since 1990.
The emergence of COVID-19 has also shown just how catastrophic the consequences of ecosystem loss can be. By reducing natural habitat for animals, we have inadvertently created conditions for pathogens such as Coronavirus to proliferate. As stated by the UN Secretary-General, “we are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations”. So, this World Environment Day, it is time to dwell deep into the concept of ecosystem restoration.
World Environment Day 2021: History and Theme
World Environment Day (WED) is observed every year to remind humans that they are not alone on this planet. In 1972, the UN General Assembly remarked the 5th of June as WED. The first celebration, under the slogan “Only One Earth”, was held in 1974 on the first day of the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment and has since developed as a platform to raise awareness on the problems our environment is facing, like plastic pollution, air pollution, illegal wildlife trade, and many more such issues.
More than 150 countries participate each year under the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The baton has been passed to Pakistan this year after Colombia hosted the event last year in partnership with Germany. The theme for 2021 is “Ecosystem Restoration”, with a particular focus on maintaining a good relationship with nature.
This year’s event will also celebrate the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. In the upcoming decade, the UN with the support of countries, partners, and people want to prohibit and reverse the loss of degraded natural ecosystem to fight climate change.
COVID-19 and the Environment
Although the pandemic has slowed the pace of life, it still hasn’t slowed climate breakdown. Before COVID-19 came into the picture, 2020 was projected to be the ‘Super Year for Nature’, with several global climate conferences set to chart to protect biodiversity over the next decade. However, the continued uncertainties resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, large physical gatherings, along many environmental negotiations have been postponed.
With the world slowly coming out of the worst, people can finally take it upon themselves to notice the impact of the Covid -19 pandemic on the environment. Even though the wildlife thrived, and people could breathe in the fresh air, the growing number of plastics and disposables due to the virus has caused an immediate threat to the oceans and beaches. Right from masks, gloves, hand sanitiser bottles, PPE kits to unrecyclable sanitary wipes littering the streets, these plastic necessities have become hugely problematic for the environment. They are causing significant problems for the sewage system.
Packaging, in general, has increased tenfold during the pandemic. With most people at home resorting to online shopping, there has been a massive upsurge in wasteful, single-use plastic and packaging that otherwise would have been avoided during traditional shopping practices. The rise in online shopping has also led to an increase in returns. Product returns, while seemingly harmless, are a hugely wasteful and detrimental aspect of consumerism, especially in the fashion industry.
How can you celebrate World Environment Day in 2021?
Ecosystem restoration is meant by preventing, stopping, and reversing the damage to the environment – from exploiting nature to healing it. Only healthy ecosystems can enhance people’s livelihoods, halt the collapse of biodiversity, and counteract climate change.
Every year, WED is celebrated by engaging governments, business, celebrities, and citizens, to focus their efforts on a pressing environmental issue. Given the drastic impact of COVID-19 on the world environment, here’s how we can collectively reimagine, recreate, and restore our ecosystem in 2021:
1. Think Twice Before Purchasing Anything: Instead of contributing to the terrible stats on product returns, think hard before making a purchase decision. Our responsibility is to ensure that we buy something we need and use 100% to avoid waste.
2. Join #GenerationRestoration: Kick-start your on-the-ground initiative, become a member of an existing restoration or conservation effort. You can also help build an alliance to give a more significant boost to nature’s comeback.
3. Raise Your Voice: A successful celebration only occurs when effective campaigns are launched worldwide to publicise the pressing issues related to ecosystem restoration. Put on or participate in an exhibition of posters, photos or art showcasing the beauty of local ecosystems. Hold a thought-provoking discussion, or write a letter to your local newspaper.
4. Pledge a Donation: In these exceptional times, it is time to give back to nature. If you are wondering, “what can I do for World Environment Day?” Now is the right time to donate to NGOs that work towards making the planet clean and green with their tree-plantation drives, rescuing and treating injured animals, curbing environmental pollution, and more.
5. Change Your Lifestyle: Although the pandemic has proven to be the most drastic hit to our ecosystem, you can counteract its adverse effects by bringing positive changes to your lifestyle. See how you can live better with nature and make slight alterations in your day-to-day activities, such as using recyclable items, reducing carbon emissions, strictly avoiding littering the roads, etc.
Together, We Can Create a Better World
Even though WED is a once-a-year activity, it doesn’t mean that we should only pay attention to the environment on that one day. This is our moment. We cannot turn back time, but we can plant more trees, green our cities, replenish our gardens, change our diets, clean up our rivers and coasts.
It is safe to say that we cannot get through a single day without impacting the world around us. Even if it is minor, what you do makes a difference, and it is upon you to decide what kind of difference you wish to make. Always remember, a little bit goes a long way. You can be the start of the movement – a movement to restore the balance and breathe in harmony between nature and humans!