Earth Day is an annual event held on 22 April to demonstrate support for environmental protection. First held on 22 April 1970, the history of the Day traces back to UNESCO.
In 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be observed on 21 March 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This day of nature's equipoise was later sanctioned in a proclamation written by McConnell and signed by Secretary General Maha U Thant at the United Nations. A month later a United States Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea to hold a nationwide environmental teach-in on 22 April 1970. He hired a young activist, Denis Hayes, to be the National Coordinator. Nelson and Hayes renamed the event "Earth Day". Denis and his staff propagated the event beyond the original idea.
This year’s Earth Day theme is: Restore Our Earth, which focuses on natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems. UNESCO World Heritage belongs to us all, therefore it is up to each of us to Restore Our Earth not just because we care about the natural world, but because we live on it. We all need a healthy Earth to support our jobs, livelihoods, health & survival, and happiness. A healthy planet is not an option — it is a necessity.
It is thus critical that UNESCO World Heritage sites are protected as many communities depend on them and future generations rely on us to ensure intergenerational transmission and protection. The World Heritage Convention is one of the most successful international instruments to recognize the most exceptional natural places in the world, characterized by their outstanding biodiversity, ecosystems, geology or superb natural phenomena.
The Convention has provided international recognition to around 3,500,000 km2 in over 250 marine and terrestrial sites across more than 95 countries, and while certain gaps in the UNESCO World Heritage List remain, it currently protects an extremely valuable sample of our natural heritage.
Natural sites provide crucial habitats to many iconic species and harbour unique natural beauty, stunning landscapes, rare ecological processes, and exceptional biodiversity. They include many iconic places such as the Serengeti National Park, Galápagos Islands, Yellowstone National Park and the Great Barrier Reef, and are often a last refuge for species threatened with extinction, such as mountain gorillas, giant panda and orangutan. Two-thirds of natural sites are crucial sources of water, and about half help prevent natural disasters such as floods or landslides. They also have a central role in climate regulation and carbon sequestration as forests found in sites across the tropical regions store an estimated 5.7 billion tons of carbon – higher forest biomass carbon density on average than the remaining protected area network. Marine sites are also critical to mitigating climate impacts as blue carbon ecosystems.
Millions of people are directly dependent on the countless products and services that these sites can provide as over 90% of listed natural sites create jobs and provide income from tourism and recreation.
More than 1 billion people globally now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. Today, we invite you to be a part of Earth Day and continue to help protect our irreplaceable planet Earth every day in all 194 States Parties of the World Heritage Convention.