Singer Jack Johnson and actor Adrian Grenier kicked off World Environment Day by calling on people around the world to connect with nature, appreciate how it sustains us, and make sure we do more to keep it safe.
The stars joined UN Environment chief Erik Solheim and Catherine McKenna, the minister for the environment and climate change of Canada, which is hosting this year’s official celebrations, in Toronto ahead of a special concert by Johnson.
“I encourage you all to get out there, get in nature, get in the ocean,” Grenier, who is also a strong advocate for ocean protection, said at a pre-concert event showcasing the work of local conservation groups. “We can become a sea of change.”
McKenna said taking her children out into the wilds of Canada helps her “recognize how damn lucky we are. But we are actually destroying our planet right now, and we have to be doing more to connect with it.”
Solheim urged people to adopt the slogan coined by French premier Emmanuel Macron and “make the planet great again!”
The concert was a starting gun for thousands of World Environment Day activities rolling out across the planet, many of them linked to this year’s theme of ‘connecting people with nature.’ Nearly 1,700 events have been registered on this website – likely a fraction of the overall total.
Thousands of people across six continents are joining clean-ups on beaches, riverbanks and in the mountains, including on the US/Mexico border in Tijuana and in Spain, Lebanon, the Greek Islands, Australia, Norway, Canada, Tanzania and even the Arctic.
In India, Bollywood stars, politicians and hundreds of schoolchildren helped plant 500 palm trees along Versova Beach in Mumbai, along with UN Champion of the Earth Afroz Shah, the culmination of a massive 18-month clean-up there.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi cited the clean-up as inspiration for a massive overhaul of India’s waste management system. Starting 5 June, he said authorities will install colour-coded litter bins in 4,000 towns across India to encourage recycling.
In Brazil, 4,500 runners in World Environment Day t-shirts raced through the jaguar-haunted Atlantic forests of Iguaçu National Park. "The nature of the park was the fuel that made us get to the end, and do it well," said Orlando Javier, the Paraguayan who won the half-marathon.
Showing how World Environment Day can catalyze change, Angola marked the day by burning more than a ton of elephant ivory. The move underlined a commitment to fighting wildlife crime made when it hosted the official celebrations in 2006.
Among the many grassroots events, students in Ibadan, Nigeria are urging people to take a stand against pollution and join a ‘March for Nature’. In the Italian city of Spoleto, bat experts with ultrasonic detectors will lead walkers around its medieval fortress in search of the mysterious flying mammals. Kids are playing ‘Environmental Detectives’ at a resort on the Thai island of Phuket; and a whole early learning centre in Woodend, Australia was decamping to the park for a day of play and exploration.
At the global level, UN Environment is inviting social media users to follow the examples of UN Environment Goodwill Ambassadors Gisele Bündchen and Don Cheadle, and post photos of their favourite natural places, in a bid to create the World's Biggest Nature Photo Album.
In a BioBlitz organized with iNaturalist, UN Environment is encouraging people to become citizen scientists from 1-12 June by mapping Earth’s amazing diversity of plants and animals. So far, nearly 5,000 people have submitted 50,000 observations. Experts use the data to identify species at risk.
Several countries are using the day to make big announcements: Hossa - a mosaic of dark, primeval forests and fish-filled waters - will become Finland’s 40th national park; and Bosnia and Herzegovina is doubling the size of its protected areas. It is one of 10 countries making it easier to connect with nature by giving free entrance to national parks. Canada is granting free entrance passes for the whole of 2017.
And as dusk sweeps across the planet, dozens of landmarks and iconic buildings are being illuminated in green in a show of solidarity with the environment, from the Water Cube in Beijing to the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio. In New York, Adrian Grenier will throw the switch to light up the Empire State Building in green.
Celebrated on 5 June each year, World Environment Day is the largest global day for positive environmental action. This year’s theme highlights the vast benefits, from food security and improved health to water supply and climatic stability, that clean environments provide to humanity.