Bridgetown, Barbados, 6 June 2014 – A week of cultural events, arts showcases and high-level political engagement wrapped up today on the island nation of Barbados, the host of the 2014 World Environment Day (WED) global celebrations, and around the world.
Events kicked off last Sunday in the Barbadian capital, Bridgetown, with a religious service offered in observance of the Day and in recognition of the 20th Anniversary of the First Conference of Small Island Development States (SIDS).
This year’s theme, “Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level”, spotlights the environmental leadership of small island developing nations such as Barbados, while bringing into focus the challenges that such islands continue to face every day. Home to 62.3 million people, the world’s 52 SIDS are custodians of 30 per cent of the world’s 50 largest exclusive economic zones and play an important role in protecting the oceans.
SIDS contribute little to climate change – emitting less than one per cent of global greenhouse gases. However, they suffer disproportionately from its effects due to their small size, remote locations and low economic resilience.
Throughout the week, officials and members of the media attended cultural shows and embarked on field trips, including to facilities involved in Bridgetown’s climate change adaptation efforts and to the famous crystallized limestone cavern, known as Harrison’s Cave. Other events included a high-level business and industry panel discussion on “Promoting Clean Technology Development and Investment in Small Islands”, and the launch of a fruit tree planting initiative at St. Christopher’s Primary School.
Speaking at the official opening ceremony on Thursday, 5 June, Rt. Hon. Freundel J. Stuart, Prime Minister of Barbados, said: “On World Environment Day, we raise the collective voices of SIDS, once again, in calling for stronger and more concrete political action and solutions to enable us to realize a future not only of resilience, but also of prosperity for our island nations.”
“The pledges of the international community continue to ring hollow, ” said Dr. the Hon. Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Chairman of CARICOM (the Caribbean Community), referring to global promises to combat climate change. Countries had not matched their pledges with resources, he said, stressing that Barbados had worked hard on its own to lower its greenhouse gas emissions and to boost the renewable energy sector.
“As one of the smallest independent states in the world, with a total land area of just 431 km 2, Barbados faces many challenges, but it is not passively accepting its fate. Barbados has long been a leader in the Caribbean region in the Green Economy approach. Its current National Strategic Plan (2006-2025) clearly identifies Building a Green Economy: Strengthening the Physical Infrastructure and Preserving the Environment as one of its key aims, ” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
Dr. the Hon. Denis S. Lowe, Minister of the Environment and Drainage of Barbados also spoke at the opening ceremony, and joined UNEP at the launch of its SIDS Foresight Report – a landmark document identifying climate change impacts and related sea-level rise as the chief concern among twenty emerging issues impacting the environmental resilience and sustainable development prospects of SIDS.
The report finds that climate change-induced sea-level rise in the world’s SIDS – estimated to be up to four times the global average in certain regions – continues to be the most pressing threat to their environment and socio-economic development with annual losses at the trillions of dollars due to increased vulnerability. It notes that an immediate shift in policies and investment towards renewable energy and green economic growth is required to avoid exacerbating these impacts.
A second report, entitled, the Green Economy Scoping Study, was also launched, representing an unprecedented collaboration across a range of experts in Barbados on ways to accelerate the island’s transition to a Green Economy.
A panel event entitled “Feeding Ourselves – Now and In the Future: Reality of Not?”, held under the patronage of Mrs. Delisle Worrell, Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados and co-hosted by McGill University, explored issues related to food security on Small Island Developing States.
Officials headed to Consett Bay to attend the closing of the UNEP-University of the West Indies-supported Resources Management Project, which aims to improve the management and monitoring of near-shore natural resources.
UNEP also formally designated the actor and environmentalist Ian Somerhalder ? best known for his work on the Warner Brothers international hit TV Series, “The Vampire Diaries” ? as its newest Goodwill Ambassador.
Ian was the celebrity winner of this year’s WED Challenge, in which he and three other UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors – actor Don Cheadle, supermodel Gisele Bündchen and footballer Yaya Touré – invited individuals to pledge action for the environment.
Millions of voices were raised around the world in support of World Environment Day. Over 2, 000 registered events across the globe ranged from an “Eco Action Day” in Singapore to a drive by the British multinational corporation Tesco to lower its carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2020.
Regional events were also held. In Australia, these included a family event to learn about “greening” the environment and an activity to enhance the health of Bather’s Beach in Perth. In the United Kingdom, the town of Strabane welcomed the launch of the Sperrins and Killeter Walking Festival, an active family day out.
In Amman, Jordan, a mass collaboration on water saving and harvesting methods took place. In Brussels, tens of thousands of attendees learned about eco-living tips, climate change and sea-level trends at an event organized by the Brussels Ministry of Environment, and in Thailand, an event focused on rising sea-levels was held with Her Royal Highness Princess Srirasmi presiding at the opening ceremony.
Meanwhile, at the annual Geneva Environment Network event, participants focused on islands and the challenges they face when confronting climate change, with exhibitors from both civil society and the public sector; and in Sarajevo, UNEP and UNDP jointly organized an environmental forum on climate change, genetic resources and biodiversity.
The Twittersphere was also alight with World Environment Day tweets, including from newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi and from the International Space Station.