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World Environment Day: Protecting our Planet One Action at a Time

June 5, 2023 marks the 51st World Environment Day established by the United Nations, which began in 1972 at the Conference on the Human Environment, to recognize the protection and health of our environment as a global issue. It is one of the largest days for environmental public outreach and awareness encouraging people to engage in activities promoting the preservation and enhancement of our shared home.

Within the past decade, there have been countless devastating environmental catastrophes, plaguing our planet with wildfires, hurricanes, degraded ecosystems, ocean pollution, and floods. Yet, we never hear about all the hard work and environmental achievements from those dedicating their efforts to restoring Mother Earth from the detrimental impacts of humans. Whether it is through legislation, environmental projects, or community engagement, people across the globe are making progress towards a healthy planet every day by Investing in Our Planet

As climate change raises sea levels, enhances extreme weather effects, and erodes coasts across the globe, the need to build up climate resilience has never been more critical. Coastal cities and island nations are currently facing national security crises. The Stimson Center is tackling this issue head on through its Climate and Ocean Risk Vulnerability Index (CORVI) project. 

CORVI is a tool created to aid governments, businesses, and financial institutions with assessing climate risks in coastal cities and identifying areas of action to adapt to these threats. CORVI combines economic, social, and environmental data to create a holistic assessment to determine how resilient a coastal city is to climate and ocean risks. This project is currently being used by over 15 cities in several countries across the world like Barbados, Madagascar, Kiribati, Fiji, and Kenya, to name a few. The research and resources provided by the Stimson Center is helping cities most at risk build climate resilience before it is too late. 

Governments are taking greater leaps toward climate change mitigation and prevention through ambitious new legislation. Recently, lawmakers for the European Union’s 27 countries embraced new trade rules for taxing imports according to the amount of carbon a company emits during production of a particular good. This is the first attempt thus far to incorporate trade and climate policy in this way. Pricing greenhouse gas emissions follows the “polluter pays” principle, providing incentives to industries to lower their carbon emissions and invest more in green technology. 

EU lawmakers hope this inspires other large countries like China and the U.S. to adopt strong environmental regulations in order to protect their own domestic industries. Ideally, the goal of these new laws is to incentivise manufacturers to cut emissions themselves in order to make them more attractive to consumers and markets in the EU. Additionally, if this law succeeds in inspiring other large countries to create their own carbon taxes, the potential to cut emissions globally could be immense. 

Even individual community members have the ability to create immense change against years of human environmental degradation. Delima Silalahi, a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, is an example of a community member who saw a problem and fought to change it. Faced with the expropriation of Indigenous land for the paper and pulp industry in Indonesia, Silalahi mobilized local villages and led a campaign to secure legal stewardship of 17,824 acres of forest for Indigenous communities. Silalahi traveled to several villages, educating people and mapping forests. After securing legal stewardship of these areas, Silalahi along with other local eco-warriors have engaged in reforestation efforts by replanting native species to promote tree cover and natural climate resilience. 

When we invest in our planet, we see real outcomes with lasting impacts. For example, a small grant given to a project based in the University of the West Indies 20 years ago would manifest into saving Hawksbill sea turtles in Barbados. Barbados is home to the second-largest Hawksbill sea turtle nesting population in the Caribbean. This species of turtles are classified as critically endangered after facing decades of being hunted, coastal development, and climate change. The Barbados Sea Turtle Project helps scientists and conservationists study the movements, growth rates, survival, and reproductive output of sea turtles by tagging the turtles to measure them, and then analyze the evidence to inform proper conservation efforts. The project has become an integral part of sea turtle conservation making Barbados an international example of success in this area. 

All of these actions were accomplished by individuals, groups, organizations, and governments with a vision for change, proving we too have the ability to work together to Invest in Our Planet. With a vision, goal, and little bit of work, our joint efforts have the potential to be transformative. We all have the ability to take action big or small whether it may be recycling, signing petitions, protesting, or composting. I challenge you today to take action and find a way to participate in the fight for a healthier planet this World Environment Day. Change begins with us, so Invest in Our Planet now.