Events around the globe celebrate 2001 World Environment Day

The launch of a global ecological assessment, a prestigious environmental awards ceremony, tree planting, water hyacinth harvesting, and environmental art exhibitions are among the events around the globe to celebrate the 2001 World Environment Day on 5 June.

The event is organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and has been commemorated on the same day each year since 1972 when it was established to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. This year four host cities have hosted events, Torino in Italy, Havana in Cuba, Hue in Vietnam and Nairobi, Kenya. In Torino, the events included an eco-efficiency biennial fair, a recycling and waste collection street event, an environmental arts exhibition and a pollution awareness campaign. In Havana, there has been tree planting, children’s activities, a meeting on organic agriculture, and an international symposium on wetlands.

In Torino, the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan announced the launch by the UN and the World Resources Institute of a £21 million (US$29 million) Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, an international collaborative effort designed to map the health of the planet, and to fill in important gaps in humankind’s knowledge of threats to the Earth’s species and ecosystems.

“The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is a four year-project,” said Dan Claasen of UNEP’s Division of Early Warning and Assessment . “One of our first tasks will be to find a common approach among the various scientific and other organisations on how to assess the health of ecosystems. One of the most difficult challenges will be the assessment of inaccessible coastal and deep ocean areas including coral reefs, mangrove swamps and the continental shelves.” This problem should be solved with a set of 16,000 Landsat satellite images donated by NASA showing how coastal areas, countryside, mountains, wetlands, agriculture and urban sprawl have changed since the 1992 Earth Summit.

However, Annan believes that mankind already knows more than enough to protect the environment. “It is not knowledge and scientific research, but political and economic factors, that will determine whether or not the wisdom accumulating in our lab[oratorie]s and libraries will be put into practice,” he said. “Challenges such as climate change, desertification, the destruction of biological diversity and population growth are testing not only our imagination, but also our will.”

World Environment Day is designed to give a human face to environmental issues, according to the UNEP, as well as to empower people to achieve sustainable and equitable development, and to promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards the environment. To these ends, each year the UNEP honours those who have made outstanding contributions to the promotion of the environment with their Global 500 Award. In the past, recipients have included the French Marine explorer Jacques Cousteau, and Ken Saro-Wiwa, the environmental and human rights activist from Nigeria who was executed for leading the resistance of the Ogoni People against the pollution of their Delta homeland. This year, In Torino, 18 individuals and organisations received the award, including a husband and wife team from Malaysia who have rescued over a quarter of a million turtle eggs, a Kenyan children’s doctor who has almost single-handedly transformed an old quarry into a much loved nature reserve, an American company specialising in eco-tourism and a Canadian teenager who began battling against pesticide misuse at the age of 10.

“In honouring the Global 500 laureates, UNEP hopes that others will be inspired by their extraordinary deeds,” said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. “We also hope that their examples will inspire and guide many other men, women and young people to join in the global coalition dedicated to protecting the environment.”

Meanwhile, in Hue, Vietnam, the events have included a workshop on integrated coastal management, and in Nairobi, the celebrations include a recycling fashion show and the harvesting of water hyacinths. The fashion show, featuring dresses and accessories made from recycled plastic, rubber and other waste materials, created by leading Kenyan and European clothes and accessory designers, is intended to drive home the message that recycling and re-using rubbish is one of the keys to improving the Kenyan environment. “Too many people view the waste they put in their bins as rubbish that can only be burnt or dumped at tips,” said Toepfer. “The ‘throw away society’ is a global problem.”

Nairobi’s events culminate on 9 June with the harvesting of the invasive water hyacinth on Nairobi Dam which has been overrun by the plant. Pilot studies have shown that a person can remove 20 wheelbarrow loads of water hyacinth in 20 minutes and turn it into a product that you can sell that will provide your week’s food.

Argentina also announced the creation of its first national coastal park, an area in Patagonia rich in biodiversity, to mark the occasion.

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