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Stories From The UN Archive: UN Proclaims World’s First Earth Day

The General Assembly designated 22 April as International Mother Earth Day through a resolution adopted in 2009, but the roots of the Day go back to the 1970s.

That’s when environmental protection was not yet a priority of national political agendas, but a growing movement took hold across the planet.

In 1971, UN Secretary-General U Thant held a special ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York, proclaiming 22 April the world’s first Earth Day.

“May there be only peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and cycle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life,” he said at the time. “Happy Earth Day!”

In 1972, the UN Conference on the Human Environment opened in Stockholm, marking the start of a global awareness of the interdependence between people, other living species and Earth. That landmark meeting that drew leaders from 130 nations also saw the establishment of World Environment Day on 5 June and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Since then, the global movement rippled across the planet, with the UN helping to push the needle on environmental awareness one major conference at a time. In 1992, more than 178 governments met in Rio for a conference on environment and development that became known as the “‘Earth Summit”, adopting Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests. It was the first major conference in which sustainable development was the main issue discussed by UN Member States.

Environmental movement ripples across the planet

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From then on, efforts to conserve the environment grew exponentially. From the 1994 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 2002 follow-up to the Earth Summit, held in Johannesburg, to the declaration of 2008 as the International Year of Planet Earth and the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

More recently, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals strikes a greener, cleaner, fairer path forward for all, and every year, world leaders and civil society gather to take stock of the UNFCC at a conference of the parties (COP), with COP29 approaching this November.

This week, the UN launched Climate Promise 2025 to help countries stay on track towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and from Rio to Beijing and Stockholm to Funafuti, Earth Day was celebrated around the world.

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