World Environment Day 2023: 50 years on
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World Environment Day 2023: 50 years on the transition to a circular economy

World Environment Day 2023: 50 years on the transition to a circular economy

Held annually since 1973, and marked by millions, this day is the largest global platform for environment action

Marisha Singh
World Environment Day. - Getty Images

The year 2023 year marks 50 years of celebrating World Environment Day which was held for the first time in 1973, on June 5, after the General Assembly adopted a resolution ‘XXVII’ in December 1972 which urged, “Governments and the organisations in the United Nations system to undertake on that day every year world-wide activities reaffirming their concern for the preservation and enhancement of the environment, with a view to deepening environmental awareness and to pursuing the determination expressed at the Conference.”

The 1972 General Assembly resolution also led to the formation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the agency that specialises in environmental issues.

Marking June 5 as World Environment Day is a reminder that people’s actions to tackle climate change matters. This day is the largest global platform for environmental public outreach and is celebrated by millions of people across the world.

World Environment Day 2023 theme

The theme for this year is “beat plastic pollution”. World Environment Day 2023 is hosted by Côte d’Ivoire and supported by the Netherlands. This year the ask from governments, businesses, and individuals is to “accelerate this action and transition to a circular economy.”

Plastic pollution facts

Moving the production and consumption of plastic to a circular economy mitigates some of the negative impacts on ecosystems and human health, tries to keep plastic as a material in the economy and the circular action allows for the safe collection and disposal of waste that cannot be economically processed.

“There is no single solution to the plastic pollution crisis,” said Rose Mwebaza, Director of UNEP’s Africa Office. “The good news is that all the technological solutions needed have already been invented, with a wave of innovative companies and forward-looking governments joining forces to make plastic pollution history.”

    • According to the UNEP, more than 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year, 50 per cent of which is single-use plastic.
    • Out of the 400 million tonnes of plastic produced annually, less than 10 per cent is recycled.
    • An estimated 19-23 million tonnes end up in lakes, rivers and seas annually.
    • 11 million tonnes of plastic waste flow annually into oceans and this number is set to triple by 2040
    • More than 800 marine and coastal species are affected by this pollution through ingestion, entanglement, and other dangers.
    • Microplastics – tiny plastic particles up to 5mm in diameter – have found their way into food pyramid – from fish to milk.
    • Each person on the planet, is estimated to consume more than 50,000 plastic particles per year –and many more if inhalation is considered.
    • Discarded or burnt single-use plastic harms human health and biodiversity and pollutes every ecosystem from mountain tops to the ocean floor.
      The social and economic costs of plastic pollution range between $300 to $600bn per year.

Action plan

The UNEP says shift to a circular economy can reduce the sheer volume of plastics entering oceans by over 80 per cent by 2040; reduce virgin plastic production by 55 per cent; reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent; and create 700,000 additional jobs – mainly in the global south.

A 2023 report by the UNEP, titled – Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy looks to inform the ongoing international negotiations to end plastic pollution. This deal is due by 2024. The report shows that only an integrated, systemic shift from a linear to a circular economy can keep plastics out of our ecosystems and bodies, and in the economy. The report lays out the required market transformation – rethinking and redesigning products; reusing, recycling, reorienting and diversifying markets; and addressing demand for durable plastics.

The report estimates that a transformed plastics economy will introduce new economic benefits by bringing new business opportunities particularly for those who adapt faster.

By 2040, it is estimated a new plastics economy could:
• Create opportunities for jobs, income and innovation: 700,000 additional jobs; improved livelihoods for millions of workers in informal settings; close to $1.3tn savings in direct public and private costs between 2021 and 2040.

• Reduce damage to human health and the environment by reducing exposure through an 80 per cent reduction of plastic pollution; 0.5 Gt CO2-eq GHG emissions prevented annually; avoiding $3.3 tn of environmental and social costs between 2021 and 2040 (32.5 per cent cost savings).

• Reduce liabilities, risks and litigation associated with damage from plastics pollution.

• When the direct, environmental and social cost savings are added up, more than $4.5tn are saved, or 20.3 per cent reduction in costs overall

COP28 in UAE

Days such as these underscore the growing momentum for climate action to keep the 1.5 degree Celsius goal within reach and to ensure the much-needed transition to a green global economy. The UAE is set to host the COP28 this year which is scheduled to be held from November 30 to December 12, 2023. The UAE government announced a national awareness campaign for sustainability issues, and support climate action strategies.


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