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World Environment Day: UN calls for more action despite progress made after the coronavirus pandemic

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Environmental activists shout slogans as they conclude their caravan from the southern Philippines to mark the global celebration of World Environment Day on  June 5, 2020.
Environmental activists shout slogans as they conclude their caravan from the southern Philippines to mark the global celebration of World Environment Day on June 5, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Bullit Marquez
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Despite presenting its own environmental problems, the coronavirus pandemic has clearly shown the benefits of reducing human impact on climate.

As several countries underwent lockdown in previous months, many across Europe enjoyed clearer skies and cleaner air.

Confinement contributed bringing down daily carbon emissions by 17% worldwide in the first months of the year.

However, the UN Environment Programme has warned that the global pandemic is not "a silver lining" for the climate.

Speaking to Euronews, on Friday - World Environment Day - Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said that more has to be done to fight the climate emergency - and lockdown is certainly not the way.

"We shouldn't just celebrate that we locked down humanity and that we closed down schools and that our economies are collapsing. That's not the way we will get to sustainable development".

"The solution is clearly to make that green switch -- to switch to greener cleaner environmental policies, including green energy."

"With the stimulus packages that governments are now rolling out, there's an amazing opportunity not to go back to where we were, but to use these funds to drive green jobs, green opportunities, retrofitting buildings, bikeways in cities, renewable energy (…) or as Pakistan has done, massive tree planting."

AP Photo/Anupam Nath
A municipal worker plants a sapling on a garbage dumping site to mark the World Environment Day in Gauhati, India, Wednesday, June 5, 2019AP Photo/Anupam Nath

The 'Race to Zero Campaign'

To mark World Environment Day, the UN has launched the "Race to Zero" campaign, encouraging countries to aim for net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, and take a greener approach to their COVID recoveries.

A greener approach that could prove good for the economy too, as Ms Andersen argues:

"Green is actually a very good growth tool. Green can actually deliver jobs and opportunity, as well as bring down health costs", in a world where "7 million people die prematurely every year from from air pollution, largely from local pollutants, such as from vehicles and power production."

Andersen is confident that the attachment that people shown to nature once they went out following lockdown is a sign that change is possible:

"When they were let out of their apartments, they went where? They went into the green, into the parks.

"People have reconnected with nature in a different way. And I believe that that will stay. And certainly, there are many leaders from both developed and developing countries, including in Europe with the European Green Deal, making it clear that this switch is permanent. So I think there's much to celebrate, and we just need to keep watching and pushing that these things are indeed done."

Biodiversity: World Environment Day 2020's theme

World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June every year,

It was established by the United Nations in 1972 and first held in 1974 to encourage environmentalism and action to protect our planet.

Throughout the years it contributed addressing global issues like overpopulation, wildlife crime, global warming, marine pollution and sustainable consumption.

This year's theme is biodiversity, a concern that the UN defined "both urgent and existential.", as it recalled the devastating bushfires that struck nature in Brazil, the US and Australia between 2019 and 2020, as well as the locust infestations across East Africa.

In his address for this year's World Environment Day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged people to "rethink what we buy and use" and "adopt sustainable habits, farming and business models" to stop "harming the natural world to our own detriment".

This year's edition is hosted by Colombia in partnership with the German government.