Saudi Arabia, at the heart of the celebration of World Environment Day 2024

Countries worldwide united for one good cause: to observe World Environment Day 2024. This year’s moment was emphasizing the restoration of degraded lands, fighting desertification, and enhancing drought resilience under the theme “Our Land. Our Future. We are #Generation Restoration.”

Celebrated annually on June 5th since 1973 and led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Environment Day has become the most significant global platform for environmental outreach, engaging millions to protect the planet.

World Environment Day 2024 aims to accelerate global commitments to protect 30% of land and sea and restore 30% of degraded ecosystems by 2030. Despite promises to restore one billion hectares by 2030, current trends indicate that 1.5 billion hectares need restoration to meet the 2030 land degradation neutrality goals.

This year, the main events were hosted by Saudi Arabia, marking only the second time in over 50 years that West Asia has hosted the event. Despite the oil riches in the Middle East, the region is currently experiencing severe and prolonged droughts, sandstorms, rising temperatures, expanding deserts, evaporating freshwater sources, and eroding fertile soils.

World Environment Day 2024 saw a record-breaking 3,657 events organized by governments, cities, civil society, universities, schools, and businesses worldwide. Activities ranged from high-level events in Riyadh to week-long festivities in South America, zoo celebrations in Europe and Asia, soil restoration labs for children in Africa, posters in transport hubs, the largest mural in North America, film screenings, and video messages from celebrities and NASA. Tens of millions joined the online conversation, with #WorldEnvironmentDay trending above major movies and global politics, amplifying the call to restore vital land.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, speaking at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, highlighted the urgent need for climate action, stating,

“We’re pushing planetary boundaries to the brink – shattering global temperature records and reaping the whirlwind.”

He didn’t forget to highlight once again the injustice that those least responsible for the climate crisis are hardest hit.

Currently, 40% of the world’s land is degraded, affecting half of humanity, with an estimated 3.2 billion people impacted by desertification. By 2050, over three-quarters of the global population is expected to be affected by droughts.

Saudi Arabia announced ambitious environmental goals, including planting 50 billion trees through the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative. On World Environment Day, the government highlighted its land restoration efforts and pledged increased support for environmental organizations, affirming the country’s commitment to achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Environment, Water, and Agriculture, Abdulrahman Abdulmohsen Al-Fadley, emphasized the Kingdom’s efforts to combat desertification and enhance biodiversity and food security through regional cooperation and national strategies.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen, addressing officials in Riyadh, called for urgent action to achieve the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration goals by 2030. She stressed the importance of restoration to address the triple planetary crisis, create new jobs, reduce poverty, and build resilience to extreme weather.

World Environment Day also saw six new cities from Africa to Latin America join UNEP’s Generation Restoration Cities, representing 45 million inhabitants, 2.1 million hectares of land, and 600 kilometres of waterways, all committed to scaling up ecosystem restoration initiatives.

Building momentum for climate action, World Environment Day 2024 supports vital ecosystem restoration efforts, aligning with the 2030 Agenda for sustainable and resilient development.

Saudi Arabia also partnered with the G20 and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on the G20 Global Land Initiative, aiming to reduce land degradation by 50% by 2040. In December, Saudi Arabia will host sixteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP16) of the UNCCD, marking the first time the region will host this pivotal meeting in the global fight against land degradation. 

Key announcements on this day also include:

  • Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu launched a 5 Million Tree Project.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed the commitment to conserve 30% of land and ocean by 2030 and to boost clean energy industries.
  • Brazilian President Lula da Silva and Environment Minister Marina Silva announced new environmental protection measures.
  • Oman planted over 16 million seeds as part of a 10 million indigenous trees initiative.
  • Bangladesh committed to expanding tree cover to 25% of its land area by 2030.
  • Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson announced a ban on bottom trawling in marine protected areas and all Swedish territorial waters.
  • A new observatory to track the progress of Africa’s Great Green Wall was unveiled.
  • North America’s largest exterior mural was revealed in celebration of World Environment Day.
  • Rainforest Trust announced it had protected 50 million acres of habitat, an area 40 times the size of Grand Canyon National Park.
  • Przewalski’s horses were reintroduced in Kazakhstan.
  • The Prince Talal International Prize for Human Development awarded $1,000,000 for Life on Land initiatives.
  • Liberian President Joseph Boakai declared World Environment Day a Working Holiday throughout the country.

Written by Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar, USA/UN Correspondent

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Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar

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