Earth Day is Our Day: The UN is leading efforts to make Earth a better home for all. You can help too.
By Eric Kwame Adae (Member of the Iowa UNA Board of Directors and the Advocacy Committee)
April 22, 2023 marks another Earth Day, a special day set aside annually to celebrate the kickstarting of one of the most pivotal environmental movements of the modern era. First celebrated on April 22, 1970, Earth Day elevates environmental protection discussions on national government agendas, boosts public consciousness, and drives positive climate action.
Today, Earth Day has grown in stature into a global event, with many hundreds of millions of people participating in events in more than 190 countries each year.
Earth Day is an important reminder to everyone that we all have a role to play in conserving the environment. By actively participating in Earth Day activities, we can all contribute meaningfully to helping make a solid difference for our planet and ensure a better home for all.
Celebrating Earth Day brings into sharper focus the important role of the United Nations (UN)to protect the global environment.
Since its inception in 1945, the UN has made significant contributions to high-level, as well as local-level, global responses to some of the biggest environmental issues that present an existential threat to humanity, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.
Through its various bodies and programs, the UN promotes international cooperation, facilitates dialogue among countries, and provides leadership and guidance on environmental issues. Leading the UN’s environmental conservation charge is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a specialized body responsible for coordinating the UN’s environmental activities and providing strong leadership and guidance for the major environmental issues.
UNEP closely collaborates with other specialized UN agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the International Atomic Energy Agency International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to synergistically ensure a coordinated effort and approach to environmental protection.
A significant contribution in the direction of this environmental protection agenda is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), which entered into force in 1994. The treaty laid a strong foundation for ongoing dialogue and cooperation among the world’s countries to address the climate crisis and led, most recently, to the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty adopted at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference.
The treaty, ratified by 196 countries, represents the most comprehensive climate agreement in human history. It commits parties to take steps to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to effectively push global efforts to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The UN also led the adoption of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which provide a workable framework to guide countries in sustainably addressing environmental issues. The SDGs comprise a set of 17 broad goals and 169 targets, seeking to eradicate poverty, spur economic progress and prosperity, while protecting the environment for current and future generations.
UN treaties and global initiatives like the SDGs provide political frameworks for international cooperation, technical assistance, and capacity building initiatives, including training, technology transfer, and financial support. UN programs are especially important in providing resources to low-income countries, working to ensure that nobody is left behind in efforts to address the climate crisis in sustainable ways that also contribute to economic development.
The UN relies on voluntary compliance from member states to implement environmental agreements. Member states do not always comply with their obligations, and the UN has limited enforcement mechanisms to hold them accountable. The UN's environmental programs and initiatives require significant funding to be effective, but the UN struggles to secure adequate resources for implementation. In general, a lack of political will among the world’s countries to prioritize environmental protection hinders UN climate action efforts. Potential tension between environmental protection and economic interests leads to challenges in generating consensus among member states.
Despite these challenges, the UN offers our best hope of promoting the global cooperation necessary to advance climate action on a global scale. The way I see it, conserving the environment is a moral imperative requiring collective action and support from individuals, organizations, and governments, and the UN's work on the environment is an essential part of this collective effort. The climate crisis affects everyone, regardless of nationality, race, or socio-economic status, and has significant impacts on human health and the global economy. Environmental issues are not limited by borders or political boundaries. They require a coordinated and global response to effectively address them, and the UN is the most uniquely placed entity to lead in this global effort.
This Earth Day also offers an opportunity to emphasize the importance of taking climate action in our own state and local communities. Work of local bodies like the Iowa City Climate Action Commission, the Cedar Rapids Climate Advisory Committee, ADAPT DSM, a climate action plan developed by the Sustainability Office of the City of Des Moines, and the City of Ames Climate Action Plan offer models for developing climate action plans in our own communities.
These types of local action plans can help build support for investment in sustainable infrastructure and technologies and to address environmental challenges in ways that protect the economic and social interests of specific communities.
This year’s Earth Day should be a clarion call for everyone to join the movement to help create a more sustainable future for all. This Earth Day, you can:
Plant a tree. Trees provide oxygen, clean the air, and help to prevent climate change.
Reduce your energy use. Turn off lights when you leave a room, unplug electronics when they're not in use, and weatherize your home to make it more energy efficient.
Recycle and compost. Recycling and composting help to reduce waste and conserve resources.
Eat less meat. Meat production is a major contributor to climate change.
Support sustainable businesses. When you shop, choose businesses that are committed to sustainability.
Get involved in your community. There are many ways to get involved in environmental efforts in your community. You can volunteer for an environmental organization, attend city council meetings, or write to your elected officials about environmental issues.
Attend an Earth Day event. There are many Earth Day events happening in Iowa on April 22, 2023, including events in Burlington, Davenport, Des Moines, and Dubuque. Check your local events calendars! These events can be a great way to learn about environmental issues and meet other people who are passionate about protecting the planet.
Make changes in your own life to reduce your environmental impact. There are many small things you can do to reduce your environmental impact, such as recycling, conserving water, and using less energy.
Educate others about environmental issues. One of the best ways to make a difference is to educate others about environmental issues. You can talk to your friends and family about environmental concerns, or you could even start an environmental club at your school or work. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has numerous resources for celebrating Earth Day in Iowa and for educating ourselves, our friends, and our families.
Learn about the UN’s new Generation Restoration campaign mobilizing young people to take action focusing on ecosystem restoration to tackle climate change.
By participating in Earth Day activities, you can help to make a difference for our planet. On Earth Day and every day, remember: the world is yours; and the power is yours