Resource Use

World Environment Day focuses on sustainable consumption

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is promoting the message of sustainable consumption over the course of World Environment Day (WED) today (5 June).

‘Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care’ is the theme of the day this year, with UNEP encouraging responsible consumption and use of finite natural resources.

Explaining the theme, the UNEP’s website reads: ‘Many of the Earth’s ecosystems are nearing critical tipping points of depletion or irreversible change, pushed by high population growth and economic development. By 2050, if current consumption and production patterns remain the same and with a rising population expected to reach 9.6 billion, we will need three planets to sustain our ways of living and consumption.’

WED sees events organised all over the world, but also encourages communities to hold activities including sporting events, arts and crafts sessions and dance to bring people together and spread the message.

The event has been run by the United Nations since 1972. For the 2014 WED, 6,437 pledges and over 3,000 activities were registered online.

Sustainable consumption handbook published by UNEP

To mark WED 2015, UNEP has published a guidebook – ‘Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP): A Handbook for Policymakers’ – which contains data on the impact of unsustainable use of resources and the efficiency gains that may be made by mainstreaming sustainable processes.

World Environment Day focuses on sustainable consumption
The front cover of UNEP's new handbook on sustainable consumption

The guidebook aims to assist governments and other organisations to use SCP policies and tools to realise national development goals through greater resource-efficiency gains, lower production costs and job creation.

According to the UNEP, decoupling economic growth from resource consumption must be coupled with ‘systemic change’ to move towards sustainable consumption. ‘For developing countries’, the organisation asserts, ‘this would mean using innovative ways to leapfrog into a green economy structure, ensuring better delivery of services and access to resources in a way that conserves their natural resource base.

‘In developed countries, resource efficiency strategies will be highly effective, but account must be taken of how much resource extraction is outsourced from developed countries to developing countries. Both require well-designed public policies, a reason why this handbook is so important. In both the developed and developing countries resource efficiency is a necessary condition for sustainable development but it needs to be complimented with systemic changes in the way we plan and develop our infrastructure and in the way we take consumption decisions.’

Launching the handbook, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “The last century has witnessed a rapid transformation of our relationship with the natural world, with the escalating use of natural resources leading to environmental degradation.

“We are now operating at about 40 per cent above the earth’s budget. If world population and consumption rates continue according to business as usual, annual global resource extraction could triple from 2000 levels to 140 billion tonnes by 2050.

“We must ask ourselves what the consequences of this pace of consumption and trajectory will be in a world that by 2050 will have to sustain up to nine billion people.

“World Environment Day provides an opportunity for governments, institutions and individuals to become agents of change. UNEP’s Handbook provides practical yet far reaching proposals to promote prosperous economies and a healthy planet for generations to come.”

Worldwide events

The Milano Expo 2015 is playing centre stage for this year’s WED. The exhibition, which runs from 1 May to 31 October this year, is showcasing technology, ideas and solutions around the theme ‘Feeding the Planet – Energy for Life’.

Today, various activities involving the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme, Slow Food, WWF Italy, the Green Film Network and national delegates will take place, including an address from Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon and Italian Minister for the Environment Giuseppe Sala.

Events are also taking place around the world to raise awareness and action for environmental issues.

For example, in Cote d’Ivoire, a mobile marketing truck is passing through three cities, teaching residents and consumer groups about consumption patterns, and holding a family awareness event involving different environmental stakeholders, universities and research institutes.

UNEP Vienna, meanwhile, is hosting two public events on human and wildlife conflicts in mountain regions, featuring a photo exhibit and discussion of conservation work around the world.

And in the Bahamas, scientists from aquatic pollution campaigning charity 5 Gyres, as well as local schools, the Cape Eleuthra Institute and singer Jack Johnson and his All at Once Foundation are bringing together activists, artists, filmmakers, scientists and young people to explore how island nations can deal with plastic pollution in the 21st century.

Learn more about World Environment Day 2015 or read the UNEP guidebook ‘ Sustainable Consumption and Production’.

Related Articles