U.N. chief António Guterres, Fridays for Future strikers, and other activists and experts demand bolder environmental action globally.
As a pandemic that’s killed over 393,000 people rages on and demonstrations demanding racial justice continue across the globe, the international community on Friday marked World Environment Day with scientifically supported warnings about the importance of protecting nature for the future of humanity.
Climate campaigners, including members of the youth-led Fridays for Future movement, as well as other activists, scientists, policymakers, and global figures such as United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres publicly called for more ambitious environmental action around the world.
The theme of this year’s World Environment Day (WED)—an annual event the U.N. has held since 1974 to raise awareness and generate political momentum around environmental issues—is biodiversity, or the variety and variability of life in a particular place or on the entire planet.
“With our increasing demands, humans have pushed nature beyond its limit,” explains an official WED 2020 website. “The emergence of Covid-19 has underscored the fact that, when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the system that supports human life.”
“By upsetting the delicate balance of nature, we have created ideal conditions for pathogens—including coronaviruses—to spread,” the website says. “We are intimately interconnected with nature. If we don’t take care of nature, we can’t take care of ourselves.”
Care for humanity = care for nature
Adopt sustainable habits, and safeguard remaining wild spaces & wildlife on Friday’s #WorldEnvironmentDay and every day.
We must commit to a green & resilient future.
— United Nations (@UN) June 5, 2020
Guterres echoed that message in a WED-focused statement and video address Friday to the Beethoven Pastoral Project, declaring: “Today, nature is sending us a clear message. We are harming the natural world—to our own detriment.”
“Habitat degradation and biodiversity loss are accelerating,” he said. “Climate disruption is getting worse. Fires, floods, droughts, and superstorms are more frequent and damaging. Oceans are heating and acidifying, destroying coral ecosystems.”
“And now, a new coronavirus is raging, undermining health and livelihoods,” Guterres added. “To care for humanity, we must care for nature. We need our entire global community to commit to a green, resilient, and climate-friendly future. Let’s listen again to Beethoven and heed the message of his music.”
To care for humanity, we must care for nature.
As we work to build back better, let’s put nature where it belongs – at the heart of our decision making.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) June 5, 2020
Activists with Fridays for Future—the global school strike for climate movement sparked by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg—acknowledged WED and the links between human health, environmental degradation, and the climate crisis in Twitter posts about their protests, which have mostly moved online due to the pandemic:
#ClimateStrike WK 5. The #COVID19 pandemic should be a lesson to all. Let’s be conscious of the #ClimateCrisis and take #ClimateAction . #ClimateChange is Here. Act now.#WorldEnvironmentDay #FridaysForFuture #green recovery. @GretaThunberg @the_ecofeminist @vanessa_vash pic.twitter.com/VM84uNIpFe
— Andrew Obu (@andrew4climate) June 5, 2020
My 63rd week on #ClimateStrike
Celebrating #WorldEnvironmentDay in a world where there is so much to protest 🌍🌿#BlackLivesMatter #GeorgeFloyd #UniteForPh #DefendTheDefenders #PollutersOut #FightEveryCrisis #FridaysForFuture #ClimateStrikeOnline #schoolstrike4climate pic.twitter.com/silptt4YZd
— Deniz4Future (@CevikusHB) June 5, 2020
Digital #ClimateStrike week 11 as we celebrate the #WorldEnvironmentDay2020 let’s show some love to our planet by keeping it green. #ClimateStrikeOnline #FridaysForFuture @GretaThunberg pic.twitter.com/SkYZJwnbjJ
— Francis Ssembatya (@FrancisSsembat2) June 5, 2020
The young climate activists holding placards formed a human chain on the Choto Chandipur embankment as part of the “#FridaysforFuture” movement led by Swedish teenage climate activist @GretaThunberg on the occasion of #WorldEnvironmentDay. @SaleemulHuq https://t.co/sD4tLmb9W4
— Fridays For Future Bangladesh (@FFFinBD) June 5, 2020
“It’s time we rethink our relationship with nature,” tweeted Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan. “To help avoid future pandemics like #Covid-19, we need to fight #climate breakdown and protect #biodiversity.”
Morgan also shared a Greenpeace video highlighting how “scientists and nature experts have rung the alarm bells about what would trigger pandemics like Covid-19.”
The video features clips of researchers explaining their concerns and findings about the consequences of destroying natural habitats—including increased risk of diseases like Covid-19 that threaten human health on a global scale.
It’s time we rethink our relationship with nature.
Only 15% of the world’s #forests remain intact.
— Jennifer Morgan (@climatemorgan) June 5, 2020
The calls Friday for ramping up global efforts to safeguard nature followed similar demands from conservationists and scientists throughout the week.
A report published Wednesday by the London-based Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) warned that 73% of world’s 60 largest meat, fish, and dairy companies are at “high risk” for fostering future zoonotic pandemics. FAIRR founder Jeremy Coller said that factory farming is “a self-sabotaging cycle that destroys value and risks lives.”
World renowned primatologist Jane Goodall said during a Tuesday webinar that “our disrespect for wild animals and our disrespect for farmed animals has created this situation where disease can spill over to infect human beings.” She warned humanity would soon be “finished” without rapidly reforming the global food system and ending the destruction of wildlife.
A study published Monday found that the current mass extinction crisis is “human caused and accelerating,” and “may be the most serious environmental threat to the persistence of civilization, because it is irreversible.” The report’s authors and other scientists emphasized the threat that destroying nature poses to the future of human life on Earth.
“Extinction is a political choice,” Center for Biological Diversity senior scientist Tierra Curry declared in response to new extinction study. “We’ve reached a crossroads where our own future is at stake if we don’t move away from fossil fuels and end wildlife exploitation, and at the same time, necessarily, address poverty and injustice.”