50 Years of UN environment programme

BY: Peter Ossei-Wusu
Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of United Nations/Executive Director, UN Environment Programme
Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of United Nations/Executive Director, UN Environment Programme

During discussions on the integration of human interactions and the environment at the UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden on June 5, 1972, the World Environment Day (WED) was instituted.

Later, led by Mr Maurice Young, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) was established.

The 113 countries adopted the Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan for the Human Environment and placed environmental issues at the forefront of international concerns.

The conference was for dialogue between industrialised and developing countries on the links between the environment, economic growth and human well-being.

Since then, UNEP has effectively been the global authority for the environment with programmes focussing on climate and nature.


The birth of UNEP and the institution of WED provided some seeds of hope and it is heartwarming that environmental issues continue to dominate global discussions.

The broad philosophy, ideology and social movement of WED remain on the environmental well-being of the planet.

WED, also known as Eco Day or Environment Day, celebrated every June 5, has become a global platform for public outreach in over 143 countries annually.

As the UN’s principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of the environment, WED is observed to protect the environment.

The day is celebrated every year on themes and major initiatives, with thousands of activities organised worldwide, including tree planting, clean-ups, concerts, exhibitions, film festivals, community events, media engagements and many more.

Today, WED has become the flagship campaign to raise awareness of environmental issues emerging from plantation development, particularly monoculture, the slash and burn agriculture, excessive timber harvesting, destructive surface mining, annual indiscriminate bush burning, hazardous agrochemicals, plastic waste menace, pollution of water bodies, human over-population, unplanned infrastructure development, climate change and global warming, excessive consumption of natural resources, wildlife crime and biodiversity loss.

On June 5, 1974, two years after Stockholm, the day was first observed on the slogan, “Only One Earth”. Subsequent observations mostly took place in Pakistan until the idea of rotating the venue was accepted in 1987.


Stockholm+50 marks a milestone in our collective journey toward a healthy planet. It offers the opportunity to reflect on, celebrate and build upon 50 years of environmental action.

On Sunday, June 5, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of UNEP and WED 2022 on the theme, “Only One Earth”.

The focus is further on the need to live sustainably in harmony with nature and the possibilities for shifting to a greener lifestyle through both policies and individual choices. Incidentally, the motto for the 1972 Stockholm Conference was ‘Only One Earth’.

The day was observed highlighting the need to live in harmony with nature through transformative changes in our policies and choices towards cleaner and greener lifestyles.

To commemorate the 1972 UN Conference on Human Environment, Sweden and Kenya, with support from UNEP and partners, organised a high-level international meeting – Stockholm+50, a healthy planet for the prosperity of all, our responsibility, our opportunity, in Stockholm on June 2 and 3, 2022.

World leaders and representatives from government, businesses, international organisations, civil society and youth gathered to drive action towards a healthy planet for the prosperity of all.

It is likely, as usual, for countries to pledge support to fight for the environment.

The best the world can do at this year’s celebration is to strive to achieve carbon neutrality and reduce emissions.

Ghana must focus on forest and biodiversity management as a tool for reducing greenhouse gases and preventing the alarming rate of biodiversity loss.

It is hoped that the $43 billion earmarked for developing countries’ efforts to reverse species loss shall, hopefully, be utilised for the intended purposes.

Fifty years on, the need to accelerate action for the environment, poverty alleviation and human rights is more urgent than ever.

It is, therefore, expected that Stockholm+50 provides a unique opportunity to be another turning point to steer humanity back on the path to a healthy planet and the prosperity of all.

The writer is Programmes Coordinator, Forest, Biodiversity and Climate Change, Frontier Institute of Development Planning. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.