World Environment Day 2016

Event date: 
2016-06-05 (All day)
Introduction and background
Theme and message
South Africa's celebration
History: going down memory lane
Related media content
Related links


Introduction and backgrounnd

introduction - the beginning

World Environment Day (WED) is the biggest, most globally celebrated day for positive environmental action.  Through WED, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) enables everyone to realise not only the responsibility to care for the Earth, but also reminds one and all of their individual power to become agents of change. Every action counts, and when multiplied by a global chorus, becomes exponential in its impact. 

WED is a big celebration, engaging millions across the globe through events on the ground in over 70 countries. Every year, participants, young and old, organize clean up campaigns, art exhibits, tree-planting drives, and concerts, dance recitals, recycling drives, social media campaigns and different contests themed around caring for the planet.

World Environment Day (WED) is the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment. Over the years it has grown to be a broad, global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated by stakeholders in over 100 countries. It also serves as the ‘people’s day’ for doing something positive for the environment, galvanizing individual actions into a collective power that generates an exponential positive impact on the planet.

WED is also a day for people from all walks of life to come together to ensure a cleaner, greener and brighter outlook for themselves and future generations.1972 - 1982


South Africa's celebration

In the South African context, World Environment Day (WED) is a key driver of this month-long June Environment Month celebrations. The month-long celebrations include celebrations of World Oceans Day (WOD) and World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD). Both WOD and WDCD are also annual events widely celebrated globally for positive action in the environmental sector. While environmental activities take place year-round, World Environment Day is marked annually on 5 June as per the decalration of the United Nations in 1972.  


The theme: Zero Tolerance for Illegal Wildlife Trade


To turn the tide against the illegal wildlife trade, more people need to understand the damage this illicit business is doing to the 

environment, economies, communities and security.  There is a need to change habits and behaviour so that demand for wildlife products falls. More awareness also increases the pressure on governments and international bodies to introduce and enforce tougher laws and combat those still willing to break them. World Environment Day 2016 encourages the celebration of all those species under threat and the taking of action by all to help safeguard them for future generations.

This year’s celebration comes ahead of South Africa’s hosting of the CITES CoP17 in Johannesburg, South Africa, as approved by Cabinet.The celebration incorporates the marking of the World Day to Combat Desertification, in line with the Department and government’s austerity measures. World Environment Day will be celebrated in Bushbuckridge, in partnership with the Mpumalanga provincial government, the Bushbuckridge Local Municipality, SANParks and SAWS. 


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Since its inception in 1974, World Environment Day has developed into a global platform for raising awareness and taking action on increasingly urgent issues from marine pollution and global warming to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime. Millions of people around the world have been motivated by the ‘people’s day’ for action, and are increasingly weaving their activities into a global movement through the expanding WED website and social media.

  • 1972 - 1982

    • UN designates June 5 as World Environment Day in 1972; two years later, WED is celebrated for the first time under the slogan “Only One Earth.”
    • 1972 The UN General Assembly designates June 5 as World Environment Day (WED), marking the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Another resolution, adopted by the General Assembly the same day, leads to the creation of UNEP.
    • 1974 WED is celebrated for the first time with the slogan “Only One Earth.”
    • 1977 UNEP leverages the day to highlight concern about the ozone layer, setting a trend for WED to generate vital early support for critical environmental issues. It takes another ten years to seal the landmark Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
    • 1979 The WED theme “Only One Future for Our Children” coincides with the International Year of the Child. For the first time, WED formally echoes a UN-designated international year, a pattern that becomes common as environmental problems rise up the global agenda.
    • 1981 WED draws attention to how toxic chemicals affect groundwater and food chains. The next year, UNEP’s Governing Council adopts the Montevideo Programme, setting priorities for global law-making that lead to major international agreements restricting or eliminating an array of hazardous chemicals and pollutants.
  • 1983 - 1992

    • WED’s profile grows as it boosts campaigns around global priorities including climate change and sustainable development; official WED celebrations start rotating around the globe
    • 1986 The WED theme “A Tree for Peace” coincides with the International Year of Peace. Reflecting WED’s growing profile, political and religious leaders including French President Francois Mitterand, Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni take part in a “Global Ceremony” by planting a tree and stressing the links between conflict and environmental destruction.
    • 1987 UNEP marks World Environment Day at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, by presenting the first of its Global 500 awards to environmental champions including Wangari Maathai. The prestigious awards become a mainstay of the annual WED celebrations through 2003.
    • 1988 WED’s main celebrations begin to rotate around the globe, starting in Bangkok, Thailand. The theme of “When People Put the Environment First, Development Will Last” comes a year after the Brundtland Report laid out its influential blueprint for sustainability.
    • 1989 A year after the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, WED celebrations hosted by Brussels, Belgium echo mounting concern about global warming. The theme will be re-visited more than any other on subsequent WEDs.
    • 1992 WED is held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the UN Conference on Environment and Development, better known as the Earth Summit. Nations negotiate landmark treaties on climate change, desertification and biodiversity, and set the course for contemporary sustainable development.
  • 1993 - 2002

    • Nations accounting for nearly one-third of the world’s population take turns hosting WED, including China (twice), Russia, Japan and Turkey; WED goes digital.
    • 1993 China hosts WED in Beijing, raising environmental awareness in the world’s most populous nation, under the theme “Poverty and the Environment - Breaking the Vicious Circle.” The event will return to China in 2002, hosted by the city of Shenzen.
    • 1995 South Africa hosts WED a year after Nelson Mandela became president. Mandela attends the formal celebrations, drawing huge international attention to environmental themes. A year earlier, the anti-apartheid leader used WED to declare South Africa’s Table Mountain a “gift to the Earth” and a demonstration of his country’s commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
    • 1996 Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa receives a posthumous Global 500 award during WED celebrations in Ankara, Turkey. With the award, WED throws a spotlight on the link between human rights and the environment.
    • 1998 WED spotlights threats to the marine environment for the first time, using the theme of “For Life on Earth – Save our Seas” in support of the International Year of the Ocean. Moscow, Russia, hosted the celebrations.
    • 2000 UNEP launches the first fully developed WED  website, making it easy for people around the world to register their activities and building a sense of global community. Main WED events took place in Adelaide, Australia under the theme “The Environment Millennium – Time to Act,” ahead of the international summit that set out the Millennium Development Goals.
    • 2001 Secretary General Kofi Annan chooses WED to formally launch the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, an international effort to map the health of the planet. Reflecting the theme “Connect with the World Wide Web of Life,” WED’s international festivities took place across several cities: Torino, Italy and Havana, Cuba as well as in Hue, Vietnam and Nairobi, Kenya.
  • 2003 - 2012

    • People around the world register more than 4,000 WED activities (in 2011) and visit the website more than 4.25 million times (in 2012); the Arab world and the United States host WED for the first time;  WED draws attention to climate change for three consecutive years.
    • 2003 The main WED celebrations take place in Beirut, Lebanon, the first time they have been hosted in the Arab world. The theme of “Water – Two Billion People are Dying for It!” is chosen in support of the International Year of Fresh Water.
    • 2005 WED is held in North America for the first time, with San Francisco hosting hundreds of events around the theme “Green Cities: Plan for the Planet.” WED’s profile in the year the Kyoto Protocol comes into force and the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment is released is lifted by the participation of former US Vice-President Al Gore and former Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom.
    • 2006 A decade after the UN Convention to Combat Desertification came into force, WED delivers a reminder of the pressures on drylands when Algiers, Algeria hosts the celebrations under the slogan “Deserts and Desertification – Don’t Desert Drylands!”
    • 2007 The theme “Melting Ice? – A Hot Topic”, hosted by Tromsø, Norway,  marks the first of three consecutive years in which WED draws attention to climate change, in the same year that the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report stated that warming of the climate is unequivocal.
    • 2010 The WED Legacy Initiative raises more than $85,000 for gorilla conservation and solar lighting in villages across host country Rwanda. WED uses a global online competition to name several baby gorillas, drawing attention to their threatened status during International Year of Biodiversity.
    • 2011 The first WED Challenge sees actor Don Cheadle attract more online followers than supermodel Gisele Buendchen, whose forfeit is to create a forest. The following year, Gisele plants the first of 50,000 trees in Rio de Janeiro’s Grumari Municipal Park.
    • 2012 Twenty years after the Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil becomes the first city to host WED for a second time. The WED theme of “Green Economy: Does it Include You?” amplifies the UNEP-led Green Economy Initiative. The WED website records more than 4.25 million visits, a new record.
  • 2013-present

    • WED embraces smaller and less-developed nations while tackling even bigger topics: from sustainable consumption to the illegal trade in wildlife; the annual day of action that began more than 40 years earlier goes viral on social media.
    • 2014 The WED theme “Raise Your Voice Not the Sea Level!” builds awareness of the dangers facing island nations from climate change. The next year, small island states secure agreement at the Paris climate talks to pursue the ambitious goal of limiting the increase in average global temperature to 1.5C.
    • 2015 WED goes viral: hosted by Milan, Italy under the theme “Seven Billion People. One Planet. Consume with Care,” WED is the most popular subject on Twitter in more than 20 countries; more than 500 videos on WED are posted on YouTube, including news clips, TV documentaries, event footage, music videos and animations.


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Links to related media content

Brochures/Posters/Newspaper adverts


World Day to Combat Desertification!
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Go Wild for Life - Go Wild for Life - Zero tolerance for the illegal wildlife trade


Links to related websites and website sources consulted: 


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