Earth Day 50 years on: Why the movement is needed more than ever | WWF
Earth Day 50 years on: Why the movement is needed more than ever

Posted on 21 April 2020

Our planet is under pressure - but we can tackle the climate and nature emergency.

We mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in a situation that few would have anticipated. With much of the global economy shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fragility of our society – even of our species – has been vividly exposed. But at the same time, our resilience and our ability to work together to face a common threat has never been so evident.

Looking back 50 years, we see a movement behind the first Earth Day that brought millions of people on to the streets to demonstrate against pollution, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife. Youth have picked up that mantle and march every Friday (albeit digitally during the pandemic) demanding governments take strong action to address the climate and nature crises in a sign of global concern for an only, unique and shared planet: our Earth.

The environmental movement that Earth Day created, and enhanced by youth movements last year, helped bring unprecedented levels of awareness of the need for a more sustainable economy and society, and of the pressures that the natural world is under. But we must also recognise that those pressures have never been greater, whether created by the growing climate emergency or the loss and degradation of natural habitats.

Lessons learned

Our response to COVID-19 must be our immediate priority. But we should also learn its lessons: of the intimate links between human society and the natural world; how we must take better care of natural ecosystems and the biodiversity they shelter; and of the imperative to relieve the pressures on natural systems to reduce the risk of future pandemics. 

Nature is a great ally in fighting the climate crisis, and fighting for a stable climate is our greatest ally in ensuring we have a viable planet that allows nature to thrive. But we must also do other things to safeguard nature. Nature provides us with a wide range of benefits. It is the foundation of our society and economies. But as the youth have shown us, safeguarding nature is also a moral imperative. 

Maintaining the the climate imperative during 2020 

It is vital that, despite the pandemic, the work that governments are doing to revise their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – their post 2020 emissions targets within the Paris Agreement framework –  continues.
It is particularly relevant as many of the actions that governments can take to build more resilient economies and societies have a nature and decarbonization lens. From supporting the growth of labour intensive solar PV installations and buildings' insulation through to ecosystem restoration in places prone to intense climate impacts, many of the win-win-win climate policy measures contained in NDCs can also serve as foundation blocks for a better and more resilient build-back.  


Global cohesive response to nature-loss and climate change  

The global response to COVID-19 shows that the world can take unprecedented action in response to a threat. We need to see the same urgent response to our climate and nature crises. Green deals that have both nature and climate at heart must be taken as a reference for all recovery efforts as part of a new deal for nature and people.
This has the potential to inspire a new generation to pick up the mantle of caring for the world we call home.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal is the leader of WWF’s global climate and energy practice.

Remnants of prairie get a foothold on land purposely set aside from agricultural development in Iowa, United States.
© Morgan Heim / Day's Edge Productions / WWF-US