22 April is Earth Day. While the coronavirus (COVID-19) has been spreading around the world and dominating news headlines, thoughts and attention, the need to take climate action has remained as urgent as ever.
By the end of 2020, global CO2 emissions need to have dropped by 7.6% and continue to fall by 7.6% each year for us to have keep global heating under 1.5oC, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2019.
Earth day 2020 is not just the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, but also the anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement to take climate action.
The pandemic is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of humans and the planet in the face of global scale threats. Unchecked damage to our environment must be addressed. In his response to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres noted that, "Had we been further advanced in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, we could better face this challenge."
Background on Earth Day
The first Earth Day took place in 1970. Outraged by oil spills, smog and polluted rivers, 20 million people took to the streets, protesting what they recognized as an environmental crisis. It was the planet’s largest civic event at the time and compelled governments to take concrete actions, including passing environmental laws and establishing environmental agencies. In addition to these practical outcomes, the event demonstrated just how much can be achieved when people come together and demand action.
The day continues to hold great significance. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution formally recognizing the day as International Mother Earth Day. On Earth Day 2016, the United Nations formally adopted the Paris Agreement, articulating the commitment of nations to limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels; and to strengthen the ability of countries to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.
Earth Day in 2020
Marking its half-century anniversary, and selecting climate action as its theme, Earth Day 2020 was already poised to be a historic event. An occasion planned to bring people physically together across a series of events, COVID-19 has now prompted a dramatic shift to completely digital and virtual platforms. Earth Day 2020 calls for 24 hours of actions, big and small, for people and the planet. On this 50th anniversary, civil society organizers hope to fill the world’s digital landscape with global conversations, positive acts, performances, webinars and events supporting urgent action on climate change.
As the world rushes to plan for a post-pandemic recovery, UNEP and other parts of the United Nations system see this as opportunity to call attention to the need to “build back better.” The risks faced by ignoring the threats of environmental destruction must be understood and addressed with protections and policies. April 22 is a timely reminder to embrace the opportunities of the natural world for green jobs, sustainable economic stimulus, for urgently taking action to protect ourselves against unsurvivable global heating and for securing healthy, dignified futures.