The UN established World Environment Day in 1972 and it was first celebrated in the city of Spokane in 1974, in the State of Washington, with the theme “Only One Earth”. A few days ago we celebrated it again, and the central theme this year has been “Connecting people to Nature – In the cities and on land, from the poles to the equator”, which invites us to go outside and appreciate Nature’s beauty and grandeur, while advocating for sustainable urban strategies to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, improve health and well-being, foster social cohesion, and engage in the conservation of places we inhabit and share.
This is precisely the theme that brought me to Dublin last week, to participate in the kick-off of the Connecting Nature project, an innovative European action that seeks to shape the design and implementation of nature-based solutions in cities by engaging city councils, civil society organisations, businesses and academics in co-producing strategies to meet the challenges of sustainability. The understanding of the fact that we are part of Nature and that we depend on it stands at the heart of these efforts, and is something that seems to elude President Donald Trump, who announced the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change – signed by close to 200 countries – just three days before World Earth Day 2017. We all know the signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, and its launching at the Marrakesh Summit during COP22, was preceded by many tensions and a lack of commitment from different countries, making it a significant breakthrough that involved intense efforts and high costs. The implications of this downturn are beginning to be announced. The head of the United Nations Environment Agency said last week that if the United States continued to decline its commitment for a transition to a green economy, it would end up losing the best jobs in the renewable energy sector to Europe and China, as the latter has become increasingly competitive. Many of China’s advances, he stated, had come from joint efforts carried out with the United States in recent years, which had also generated a healthy competitive dynamic to assume leadership in the sector of clean energy and the fight against climate change.
No government can stop progress, nor is it possible today to halt the development of a market that is inevitably assuming the culture of decarbonisation. And if Europe remains united in its transformation towards renewable energy sources, the market – and consequently employment – will move towards clean and low-carbon industry. Reducing dependence on carbon is already a goal towards which more and more regions and cities of Europe are moving, as they launch their roadmaps towards green employment and urban regeneration through nature-based solutions. New global cooperation platforms and networks are being created to experiment with sustainable options and to establish a new reference framework for sustainable social and economic development. Anyone choosing to remain an outsider will only stand to lose significant economic opportunities, as the world moves towards a new paradigm, in sync with Nature.