On April 18 close to 300,000 people united under a warm sun on the National Mall in Washington, DC, for Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day, a momentous day-long mix of advocacy and entertainment, urging citizen action to help end extreme poverty by 2030 and stop climate change.
Musical acts alternated possession of the stage with a diverse cadre of global leaders making policy commitments and calling citizens to action throughout the eight-hour event. Superstars like Mary J. Blige, Usher, and the band No Doubt roused the massive crowd which spilled out on green grass around the iconic Washington Monument. More than 2 million people tuned into the live webcast on YouTube.
“2015 is the time for global action. You have the power, your generation can change, your generation can make a difference,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the crowd, sharing the stage at the end of the event with World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde.
The call to be a “global citizen”—and the power of citizens to influence governments in a year of important decisions for people and the planet—peppered the testimonies of artists and leaders alike.
“It depends on every single one of you insisting on your politicians and your leaders do everything in their power to bring an end to extreme poverty,” said Kim.
Fresh on the heels of the Spring Meetings Development Committee meeting, which took place earlier in the day, Kim and Lagarde reported the commitment of governments to reaching a global financing deal for development.
“This morning hundred and eighty-eight finance ministers and governors of central banks were at the IMF and they heard a noise—and it was you!” Lagarde said. “Because they heard you, and they will continue to hear you, they are committed to the cause of ending poverty and financing development.”
“We commit over the next few years, instead of raising billions of dollars…to raise trillions of dollars to end poverty,” Kim said of the goal to use development aid money to leverage private investment in poor countries.
Interspersed with video segments and introduced, in turn, by a group of emcees including Will.i.am, NBC’s Soledad O’Brien, and CNN’s Isha Sesay, a wide range of commitments and announcements were made on stage throughout the day.
For example, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende committed $12 million toward a World Bank-managed Pollution Management and Environmental Health program to mitigate the effect of pollution on human health. Rovio, creator of the “Angry Birds” game, announced the development of a game to raise awareness about climate change. Toyota’s Geri Yoza said the company is launching the world’s first vehicle powered by fuel cell technology. Junaid Ahmad, senior director of the World Bank’s Water Global Practice, reaffirmed the institution’s commitment to funding better sanitation systems in poor countries.
“This is about the dignity of people,” Ahmad said, rallying the crowd to robust applause. “We need to give that dignity back. Tell the world you want poverty to be stopped. Make your voice heard!”
“Overall, I think the event was well organized and it was a fantastic experience,” said Washington-area resident Minhae Choi who participated in the rally. “People from every nationality joined forces to make a statement: action for all and from all.”
Mphatso Matenda, also at the event, concurred: “As a young person, there is nothing more exhilarating, heartwarming, and motivating than being part of a movement, in a such a pivotal time in our history, that emphasizes exactly what we are here for, to eradicate extreme poverty as global citizens.”
The event was a collaboration between the Earth Day Network and Global Poverty Project, two dynamic advocacy groups focused on protecting the environment and ending poverty, respectively. As a key content partner, the World Bank Group played a pivotal role in bringing a diverse set of voices to the event, including developing country voices, Connect4Climate, TerrAfrica, the Water Global Practice’s Water and Sanitation program, the Pollution Management and Environmental Health program, as well as global artists D’Banj, Fally Ipupa, VIXX, and Roy Kim.
Timing of the event was fortuitous and purposeful. Earth Day is April 22. And many of the leaders who made policy commitments were in town for the World Bank Group-IMF Spring Meetings.
Speakers repeatedly urged participants and those watching online to join the movement and download the Global Citizen Earth Day app which includes tools and suggestions for taking action. “Awareness is fine, but we want you to take action,” said Hugh Evans, founder of the Global Poverty Project.
Ban Ki-moon’s call to action summarized much of the day’s sentiment:
“Be a global citizen: bring your energy, bring your passion, bring your compassion to make this world sustainable and prosperous.”