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Earth Day 2016: In a rapidly urbanizing world, cities hold the key to a greener future

Kevin Taylor's picture
Photo: Mricon/Flickr
This Earth Day, we have good reason to celebrate. It’s been a year that saw historic commitments along the path of our collective response to climate change and how we will live on the planet in this century.
 
In September, global leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals and are now working to put them into force to end poverty, while also combating climate change and ensuring that our future is prosperous for all people.
 
The Paris Agreement reached at COP 21 last December represents our best foot forward toward cutting carbon pollution and building resilience to the climate threats we face. And that momentum continues this week, as leaders from around the world gather in New York City to formally sign the Agreement to turn those promises into action.
 
Increasingly, that future will be more urbanized than ever before. 6 out of 10 people on the planet will live in cities by 2030. However, more than 820 million people live in slums and this number, sadly, is increasing. Fortunately, more and more local leaders are stepping up efforts to make cities more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and productive to address the global challenges of climate change, poverty, and inequality.
 
This year, we can celebrate another global commitment in the launch of the Compact of Mayors. Nearly 500 mayors and local officials have signed the Compact to mark their pledge to tackle climate change. Most of these leaders were in Paris for COP 21 to call on nations to follow their example.
 
It is critical to seize this momentum to turn the promise of the Paris Agreement, SDGs, and Compact of Mayors into reality. For climate change, we need to significantly reduce CO2 emissions as soon as possible, as the window for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change is rapidly closing.

Earth Day: Bah Humbug

Dan Hoornweg's picture

LeafI have a love-hate relationship with Earth Day (April 22nd) . The concept and enthusiasm are great; but the faux commercial interests and token personal efforts make me uneasy. True, every little bit helps, but the ‘lots of little efforts’ are still way too little, and may actually distract us from the big changes needed. 

All good ideas usually come from several sources; and once they get going, often head off in several directions. Earth Day is no exception. The first Earth Day had two sources. San Francisco, again showing that cities lead, first observed Earth Day on March 21, 1970. The idea was to help celebrate the Equinox (first day of spring in northern hemisphere). A few weeks later, a US Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, called for an environmental teach-in arguing: 

“I am convinced that all we need to do to bring an overwhelming insistence of the new generation that we stem the tide of environmental disaster is to present the facts clearly and dramatically.”

This is where I disagree. The facts are clear - and have been for a long time. The problem is we just don’t want to do the hard work that’s needed for any semblance of sustainability. We are very powerful procrastinators. So a few of us might as well turn off a light, or forgo the car while we wait to generate sufficient political and personal will to get on with the heavy lifting. But surely getting all these people thinking about, and working for, the environment can’t be a bad thing. Maybe it will help us act on the bigger stuff sooner.

Celebrating Earth Month…One step at a time

Artessa Saldivar-Sali's picture

Earth Day Network logo

Happy Earth Month from the Sustainable Cities team! While Earth Day isn’t until April 22nd, we must spend some time this month to think about what this celebration of the natural environment means for us, staunch urbanites.

Like many environmental initiatives, Earth Day was actually proclaimed by a city – San Francisco, California - and the occasion was celebrated with other US cities in 1970. Earth Day went international in 1990, and now it’s celebrated in more than 175 countries every year.