Celebrating our cities

World Environment Day first held in 1972 by the United Nations General Assembly to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. On the same day, the General Assembly adopted a resolution to create a global environmental programme (UNEP). Readers may recall that it was under UNEP’s umbrella that Johannesburg hosted the World Summit on Sustainable Development three years ago.

Since 1972, each year a city acts as host for the world event, which includes a broad range of forums to discuss global environmental issues, in which the world’s citizens can share their experiences, and strive to find workable solutions.
Many countries also hold their own national events to tie in with the global event.

World Environment Day is also a time to celebrate and give thanks for the great gift of life our unique planet gives us, and to realise that we humans do not exist apart from our environment, that we are utterly dependent upon our world for everything we need or desire.

This year, the chosen city is San Francisco in California, United States, which hosts a five-day event from June 1 to 5. It includes many workshops and seminars, an economic summit, an environmental film festival, many educational activities, arts programmes, eco-tours, a carnival of flowers, even a workshop for restaurants on ‘sustainable cuisine”. San Francisco will also showcase its existing, ongoing greening projects, from big city-wide initiatives to small neigbourhood efforts.

Each year, an overarching theme is chosen. This year’s ‘Green Cities” will focus on five key urban issues:

- Urban Power (energy, renewables and energy conservation)

- Cities on the Move (transportation)

- Redesigning Metropolis (waste diversion and the built environment)

- Pure Elements (food, water and air)

- Flower Power (open spaces, biodiversity and greening the urban environment)

Population experts have predicted that in a mere 25 years’ time, by 2030, 60% of humanity will be living in cities and towns. At the current rate of 1,2%, world population is growing by 77-million people each year. Even when we factor in attrition by epidemics (like Aids or the SARS virus) or natural disasters (like earthquakes), this forecast means our world is going to get crowded.

More people in urban areas will mean ever-increasing demand on governments to supply basic services such as water and energy from ever-dwindling resources, more waste to get rid of — the potential for urban disasters is daunting. Imagine permanent water restrictions, or daily power outages. Even worse, imagine rampaging epidemics of diseases like cholera from polluted water supplies caused by uncontrolled dumping of garbage. In some parts of the world, this is already a reality.

Yet finding solutions to these problems is not solely the responsibility of governments. We are all in this together, and it will take our collective efforts to stop our worst nightmares from coming true. This June, ask yourself how much you and your family are contributing to the problem, and what you can do to ensure that, by World Environment Day 2030, we still have something to celebrate. Every day should be Environment Day.

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