World Environment Day 1997 is special. This year the United Nations Environment Programme celebrates a number of significant milestones since its creation 25 years ago at the Stockholm Conference. This year, the world also marks the 10th anniversary of the historic negotiation of the Montreal Protocol to preserve the ozone layer; 10 years since the ground-breaking Brundtland report; and five years since world leaders gathered in Rio for the Earth Summit.
This happy coincidence of celebrations is symbolic of one common purpose: the preservation of life on Earth.
Just as no two fingers are identical, so no two beings are alike. Every country has its own unique culture and traditions.
But there is one universal message which can embrace the entire world. A message which is common to different national governments, to people who bear no resemblance to each other, to cultures alien to one another.
It is the message of the sanctity of Life on Earth.
And this is the theme for this year's World Environment Day: "For Life on Earth".
To a visitor from another planet the world would present a spectacle as melancholy as it is bewildering. It would see civilization in danger of perishing under the oppression of a gigantic paradox. It would see multitudes of people starving in the midst of plenty. It would observe that even with a steady growth in our technical ability there is a seemingly inexorable deterioration of our environment.
According to UNEP's recently released Global Environment Outlook report, the quickening pace of our assault on the environment continues to be dramatic in its impact.
Global warming, the depletion of the ozone layer, the decline of biological diversity, the loss of soil and forests, the contamination of our fresh water supplies and even the great oceans, vanishing fisheries, the flood of toxic substances entering our environment and our bodies and threatening our health - all signal that we continue to make excessive demands on the global environment that sustains us.
But we are not visitors from another planet. We are inhabitants of the Earth.
This is our world, and we must make the best of it.
Whatever we do or fail to do will influence the future of life on earth.
By throwing our joint weight into the scales of history on the right side, we can tip the balance decisively in favour of a healthy environment which can sustain life on earth.
The sanctity of all life on earth should find expression in all our actions: In understanding that human wealth and economic development ultimately derive from and depend upon the resources of the Earth; In seeing economic development and care for the environment as compatible, interdependent and necessary; In knowing that economic development can help solve environmental problems only if it is accompanied by an attitude of responsibility and stewardship for the Earth; And in knowing that the key to socially sustainable development is the participation, organization, education and empowerment of people.
On this World Environment Day, let us not despair, but instead examine the state of our environment. Let us consider carefully the action which each of us must take and then -address ourselves to our common task of preserving all life on earth in a mood of sober resolution and quiet confidence.
Let this World Environment Day become a celebration of our past achievements, but most importantly a vehicle for establishing a universal concord for all living beings, for establishing peace and for nurturing our ecological heritage."
For more information:
Tore J. Brevik
Chief, Information and Public Affairs
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: 254-2-62-3292, Fax: 254-2-62-3927
Patricia L. Jacobs
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: 254-2-62-3088, Fax: 254-2-62-3692
UNEP News Release 1997/19