Amidst the tumult of COVID-19 headlines it may have been easy to overlook the fact that Earth Day took place last week. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the event saw more than 190 countries make commitments on a wide range of environmental issues. The first Earth Day in 1970 had 20m citizens mobilise globally to demand action on the environmental challenges of the time. 50 years on, the organisers of the event (Earth Day Network) can count 75,000 partner institutions. Meanwhile the day itself is reportedly the largest civic observance in the world, normally attracting 1bn participants.
Despite more than 3bn people currently in lockdown, over 100m people participated digitally in various campaigns this year. Around the world, a range of national governments, city mayors, multinationals and other corporates made commitments on topics concerning renewable energy, plastics reductions, plant-based diets, climate literacy and more.
Beyond the issuance of press releases and medium-term targets, there is still more to be done. The United Nations stated emphatically in its own release that “public funds should be used to invest in the future, and not the past,”by making the economy and energy systems more sustainable, reducing emissions and slowing global warming. Recommendations include ending fossil fuel subsidies and taxing polluters to hold them accountable for their damage. Investors also need to be held more accountable, per the UN.
The challenge, of course, is that greenhouse gases do not respect national boundaries – just like viruses. Crises, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, can often prove a catalyst for change. The fiscal taps have been opened in almost all developed countries, meaning budgets are available for new initiatives. Meanwhile, public support for more robust environmental policies is strong. Anecdotally, we all seem to like the current smog-free streets and clear skies. Warm April weather conditions across western Europe meant that record levels of solar energy were generated last week (per Bloomberg). Progress is being made.
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