World Environment Day – a war of the worlds?

World Environment Day  – 5th June 2009

Which world do you inhabit -a ‘tree -hugging’ world or a ‘fight you’ world? Read on….

tree hugger
tree hugger

World Environment Day (WED) was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.

Commemorated yearly on 5 June, WED is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action. The day’s agenda is to:

  1. Give a human face to environmental issues;
  2. Empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development;
  3. Promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues;
  4. Advocate partnership which will ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.
increasing surface temperatures
increasing surface temperatures

The theme for WED 2009 is ‘Your Planet Needs You-UNite to Combat Climate Change’. It reflects the urgency for nations to agree on a new deal at the crucial climate convention meeting in Copenhagen some 180 days later in the year, and the links with overcoming poverty and improved management of forests.

climate change-can you control it?
climate change-can you control it?

While the United Nations tries to alert people about the potential environmental crisis looming ahead  -the ‘Nations’  part of the UN prefers to spend their money on arms production and use, than pay their dues to the UN.

Global military expenditure now stands at over $1.2 trillion in annual expenditure and has been rising in recent years.

Global arms spending
Global arms spending

Indeed, compare the military spending with the entire budget of the United Nations:

The United Nations and all its agencies and funds spend about $20 billion each year, or about $3 for each of the world’s inhabitants. This is a very small sum compared to most government budgets and it is just a tiny fraction of the world’s military spending. Yet for nearly two decades, the UN has faced  financial difficulties and it has been forced to cut back on important programs in all areas. Many member states have not paid their full dues and have cut their donations to the UN’s voluntary funds. As of August 31, 2008, members’ arrears to the Regular Budget topped $919 million, of which the United States alone owed $846 million (92% of the regular budget arrears) and of course is the world’s biggest spenders on arms.

Summarizing some key details from chapter 5 of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)’s 2008 Year Book on Armaments, Disarmament and International Security for 2007:

  • World Military Expenditure in 2007 is estimated to have reached $1.339 trillion in current dollars (just over $1.2 trillion in 2005 constant dollars, as per above graph);
  • This represents a 6 per cent increase in real terms since 2006 and a 45 per cent increase over the 10-year period since 1998;
  • This corresponds to 2.5 per cent of world gross domestic product (GDP), or $202 for each person in the world;

Of course with a billion people living in poverty, living on $365 per year or less, they may prefer  their governments spend their tax dollars in a different way. What about spending more on education and health?

UNESCO stated that governments of the world invested the equivalent of PPP$ 2.46 trillion in education in 2004 (or 1.97 trillion if converted into U.S. dollars on the basis of market exchange rates). This figure represents 4.4% of global GDP in PPP$. PPPs (purchasing power parities) are rates of currency conversion which eliminate differences in price levels among countries.

Total global expenditure for health US$ 4.1 trillion + Total global expenditure for health per person per year: US$ 639

So back to WED -what about spending on the environment?Guardian headlined in 2008

“Huge increase in spending on water urged to avert global catastrophe”

HEP Dam Chile.EPA
HEP Dam Chile.EPA

Countries across the world will have to dramatically increase investment in dams, pipes and other water infrastructure to avoid widespread flooding, drought and disease even before climate change accelerates these problems, experts have warned.

Global sea level rise?
Global sea level rise?

Investment needs to be at least doubled from the current level of $80bn (£45.5bn) a year, an international congress was told this week, and one leading authority said spending needed to rise to 1.5% of gross domestic product just “to be able to cope with the current climate” – one thousand times the current level.

The warnings follow a summer of dramatic events, from hurricane flooding in the Caribbean and the east coast of America to desperate measures in drought-stricken Mediterranean countries, including importing water by ship.

Rich nations suffer huge under-investment, but the threat of poor infrastructure to populations in developing countries is even greater, said Dr Olcay Unver, director of the United Nations’ Global Water Assessment Unit.

So serious is the problem that next year the UN’s World Water Assessment Report will make one of its main messages the need for investment to “accelerate substantially”, said Unver.

“You can’t justify the deaths of so many children because of lack of infrastructure or lost productive time of people [who are] intellectually or physically incapacitated because of simple lack of access to safe water or sanitation,” he added.

Dr Glen Daigger, senior vice-president of the International Water Association, said there was growing evidence that spending on clean water and sanitation was the single greatest contribution to reducing disease and death. The UN has identified dams for hydropower and irrigation as leading drivers of sustainable economic growth in developing countries. “Water and sanitation is clearly a better investment than medical intervention, but it’s not sexy,” added Daigger.

So on WED Governments could do some thinking -where do we get the money to attempt to start solving some of the big questions about the environment -and the step before that is to raise enough awareness so that action can be taken to pressurise Governments to act on your behalf…and the penguins!

Antarctic penguins
Antarctic penguins

5 Replies to “World Environment Day – a war of the worlds?”

    1. Hi there -if all the small ideas could be implemented,particularly if they are ‘owned’ by the community, then of course the earth would be on the road to ‘recovery’.


  1. It is a nice to notice that in Vietnam trees are rarely cut down for the sake of construction. The local people would build around the tree and try all sorts of ‘torticolis’ to save the tree. This may spring from the Animist beliefs fused with the Buddhist religion.Trees are a recurring theme in stories about the life of Buddha. Buddha was born under a tree. Buddha received enlightenment under a tree.

    All good though ! Barely see any tree hugger around … maybe the spirit of Buddha is too ‘respectful’ to be hugged ?

  2. Perhaps it is more important to plant trees than to hug them!
    If you follow the story of Wangari Maathai in Kenya, and her Green Belt Movement, you could be inspired not only to read what action can be taken but also to plant a tree!
    Awareness is never enough , but awareness leading to action can be very powerful.

  3. Do you imply I don’t want to plant a tree ?! If given the slot, I would turn into Wangari Maathai 2 !

    OK, I planted a cherry tree yesterday … next to an orange tree … next to a Longan berry tree ….

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