Celebrating Earth Day: Historic Steps And Humane Efforts

By Rumal Siriwardena

April 22, 2016 marks the 44th anniversary of International Earth Day. Earth Day's origins lie in two individuals. Peace Activist John McConnell who at a UNESCO Conference in 1969, put forth the idea that there should be a day to celebrate the Earth, and US Senator Gaylord Nelson, on April 22nd. In 1990, the organization Earth Day made the event a truly global celebration, with 141 states participating.  In 2009 the UN General Assembly decided that  April 22 should be celebrated as International Mother Earth Day, with the resolution A/RES/63/278.

Earth Day's essence is the interconnected nature of the relationship between human beings, other living species and the planet, and how best to protect our planet. It is a day for all those who care about the environment - whether concerned about oil spills, or pollutions, or the oceans, pesticide use, protection of wildlife, conservation of forests etc. to unite under a common theme and platform.

The theme for 2016 Earth day is : Trees for Earth.The Earth Day Network has set a target of planting 7.8 million trees around the world, within the next 5 years. Trees are essential to combating climate change as they are valuable carbon sinks. Trees also help to conserve species and their habitats, as well as providing economic and other environmental benefits - by way of food and income.

2016 Earth Day and Climate Change

As 2000 approached, Earth day focused on global warming and clean energy. Just in 2010, the stage for International Earth Day was shared by climate change deniers and the environmental community alike. Today however, there can be no denying climate change, as it has been officially recognized as a major issue facing all nations. Hence the historic Paris Agreement last year and on Earth Day 2016, a record number of countries (160 and counting) are scheduled to meet and sign the Paris Agreement at the United Nations headquarters in New York.  Their signatures are a step towards bringing into force the draft climate protection treaty adopted by consensus at the 2015 UNFCCC Conference in Paris.  In the Paris Agreement, all 196 Parties agreed to work towards limiting the temperature rise overall to below 2 degrees Celsius, After the signing on Earth Day 2016, the period for more signatures will be open for a period of one year, giving the opportunity for all parties to sign and thereby validate and ratify the Agreement. 

Policy and Advocacy Coordinator of Climate Action Network South Asia, Vositha Wijenayake said, “Sri Lanka’s signing of the Paris Agreement on the 22nd of April in New York shows the country’s willingness to contribute to the global efforts on addressing climate change. However the country being a dualist system of law in accepting international law to the domestic legal system, would need to ratify it at the domestic level. It is necessary that the next actions at the domestic level are also done as soon as possible.”

She also stressed the need to have actions that match to the commitments by which the country is willing to be bound through the implementation of concrete actions on the ground. 

“In order to make this a concrete effort, the actions and policies at the domestic level, will need to be ambitious in addressing emission reduction, and adapting to the impacts of climate change,” she added. 

Earth Day and Animal Welfare

We share our planet with our fellow animals. It is important that on Earth Day we focus on their welfare as well. One way to address this is focusing on the protection of animals from cruelty and ensuring that we focus effectively on ensuring their welfare. In Sri Lanka the laws protecting animals is archaic, and are not implementable in a manner that is robust and capable of protecting the animals. 

Coordinator for SLYCAN Trust, a founding member of the Animal Welfare Coalition, Bhagya Wickramasinghe said, “ Cruelty to animals is defined by Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance No. 13 of 1907 and is in great need for reform. The penaly for cruelty to animals according to this Orcinance, is a fine that may extend to hundred rupees, or imprisonment (maximum 3 months) or both.The penalties such as this, that are trivial and not detrimental in its effect are not able to prevent cruelty to animals. We need reform to this law, and the long due Animal Welfare Bill enacted this year, to ensure our commitment to a humane governance for all beings.

“Earth Day is not only to think of humans, and the survival of the planet for their sake. It is also at time to focus on other beings to whom this planet belongs. We need to take actions to ensure that their welfare is also ensured,  especially from adverse acts of humans and plan for better actions to protect the environment,” she concluded.