Climate Change

UN Dubs First-Ever Earth Day: Unearthing Hidden Gems from the UN Archives

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.

UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata

A team prepares posters and signs to be used at the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972. (file)

“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!”

Watch the UN Video’s latest Stories from the UN Archive episode here.

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

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.

Kiara Worth

Representatives of Indigenous peoples, environmental groups, children and youth, women, and persons with disabilities came together to support the Peoples’ Declaration on Climate Justice at COP27 in Egypt. (file)

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.

On #ThrowbackThursday, UN News is showcasing pivotal moments across the UN’s past. From the infamous and nearly-forgotten to world leaders and global superstars, stay tuned for a taste of the UN Audiovisual Library’s 49,400 hours of video recordings and 18,000 hours of audio chronicling.

Visit UN Video’s Stories from the UN Archive playlist here and our accompanying series here. Join us next Thursday for another dive into history.

© UNICEF/Howard Elwyn-Jones

People take part in a demonstration for climate action, led by youth climate activists and organised on the sidelines of COP26 in Scotland. (file)

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7 Comments

  1. It’s fascinating to know the history behind Earth Day and how it all started as a global movement in the 1970s. The efforts to raise awareness about environmental protection are crucial for the well-being of our planet. Let’s strive for more sustainable practices every day!

  2. 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!”

  3. Was the establishment of World Environment Day a direct result of the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972?

    1. Yes, the establishment of World Environment Day was indeed a direct result of the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. It was during this landmark meeting in Stockholm that the awareness of the interdependence between people, other living species, and Earth was globally recognized. The conference, with leaders from 130 nations, paved the way for celebrating World Environment Day to promote environmental awareness and action.

  4. Isn’t it fascinating to uncover the origins of Earth Day and see how it has evolved over the years?

    1. Sure is! Learning about the historical roots of Earth Day really sheds light on the importance of environmental awareness and global cooperation. It’s remarkable to see how far we’ve come in recognizing the interconnectedness of all life on our planet.

  5. In 1971, UN Secretary-General U Thant proclaimed 22 April as the world’s first Earth Day, highlighting the importance of environmental protection. It’s inspiring to see how this movement has grown since then, promoting global awareness of our interdependence with Earth and all living species. Let’s continue to work towards a sustainable future for our beautiful planet!

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