Earth Day 2016: Why we celebrate it on April 22 and why it is more important this year

By @chelean on
A student volunteer in a Captain America costume (front) sweeps the ground during a campaign to clean the streets to mark Earth Day, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province April 21, 2015.
A student volunteer in a Captain America costume (front) sweeps the ground during a campaign to clean the streets to mark Earth Day, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province April 21, 2015. Reuters/Stringer

On Friday, leaders from over 150 countries will sign the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s a fitting day to agree on measures to protect the planet as Friday is Earth Day. But what exactly is Earth Day and why do people celebrate it on April 22?

There are 365 days in a year, but one of its days is specifically designated for environmental awareness. Earth Day is an annual event celebrated worldwide to demonstrate support for environmental protection.

Peace activist John McConnell first proposed the concept in 1969 to honour the planet, though he chose the date March 21, 1970, which was the first day of spring in the US. American Senator Gaylord Nelson, on the other hand, chose April 22. Both men were inspired to start a movement that can raise awareness of the needs of the Earth after witnessing the country’s great excesses in use of natural resources.

And so on April 22, 1970, millions of Americans took to the streets to protest against the deterioration of the environment. Earth Day 1970 achieved a political alignment from both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the rich and poor.

By 1990, Earth Day became a global event. Denis Hayes, the National Coordinator for Earth Day 1970, assembled a much larger campaign, mobilising millions of people from 141 countries in joining the event on the same day, April 22. Today, nearly more than a billion people across 200 countries celebrate Earth Day by raising awareness of the planet’s condition and encouraging people to be more environmental friendly.

Paris Agreement

Celebrating Earth Day is doubly important this year. Leaders from 155 countries have committed to sign the Paris Climate Change Agreement at the United Nations headquarters in New York on this day. In the agreement, which was approved in Paris on Dec. 12 last year, the countries pledge to limit the temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius.

It also requires developed nation to provide funding to help other countries in cutting back their carbon emissions. In line with this, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged another $800 million on top of the already promised $200 million at the Peru climate talks in 2014. The fund aimed to provide assistance to Pacific Island nations to adapt to climatic change.