THIS Sunday, June 5, is the 50th celebration of World Environment Day (WED). This event was established by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. It is the largest global platform for environmental public outreach and is celebrated by millions of people across the world including the Philippines.

It was also in June 5 that the UN General Assembly created the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the principal body of the UN in the field of environment. The first celebration, under the slogan “Only One Earth” took place in 1974. This year, “Only One Earth" is still the campaign slogan, with the focus on “Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature”. This year’s host is Sweden.

Past World Environment Days have focused on everything from air pollution to food waste, and each year has seen an increase in the number of people participating. In 1977, the event focused on the depletion of the ozone layer and in 1983 on acid rain. Climate change was the theme in 1989. Last year the theme was ‘ecosystem restoration’, focusing on resetting our relation with nature.

In the Philippines, WED is observed not just for a day but for the whole month of June. This yearly observance started in 1988 when President Corazon C. Aquino signed proclamation No. 237 declaring the month of June as Philippine Environment Month.

Today our planet Earth, our only home, faces numerous environmental threats like global warming which is causing climate change, pollution of the air, land and water, plastic waste and habitat loss. WED 2022 calls for collective, transformative action on a global scale to celebrate, protect and restore our planet. While nations and governments are in the best position to effect change through their laws and policies, individually we can also act. We can change our lifestyle and consumption habits. We are living unsustainably.

We are using the equivalent of 1.6 Earths to maintain our current way of life, and ecosystems cannot keep up with our demands. Our lifestyles are associated with two thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions. Studies show that sustainable lifestyles and behaviors could reduce our emissions by 40 to 70% by 2050.

We have to act fast. Time is running out. To keep global warming below 1.5°C this century, we must halve annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Without action, exposure to air pollution beyond safe guidelines will increase by 50 per cent within the decade and plastic waste flowing into aquatic ecosystems will nearly triple by 2040.

Experts say it is clear that urgent, transformative action is required to halt the decline of the natural world. To support this UNEP has produced the #OnlyOneEarth Practical Guide, a compass providing governments, cities, businesses, community groups and individuals with key environmental actions they can take to effect real change.