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The booming illegal trade in wildlife products is eroding Earth’s precious biodiversity, robbing us of our natural heritage and driving whole species to the brink of extinction. The killing and smuggling is also undermining economies and ecoystems, fuelling organized crime, and feeding corruption and insecurity across the globe.

Wildlife crime endangers iconic elephants, rhinos, tigers, gorillas and sea turtles. In 2011, a subspecies of Javan rhino went extinct in Vietnam, while the last western black rhinos vanished from Cameroon the same year. Great apes have disappeared from Gambia, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo, and other countries could quickly follow. Lesser-known victims include helmeted hornbills and pangolins as well as wild orchids and timbers like Rosewood – flowers and timber are also considered wildlife!

Huge efforts to counter the illicit trade - including stronger policies, awareness campaigns and investments in community conservation and law enforcement - have scored some great successes. However, many species remain at risk and it will take a dedicated and sustained effort by each and every one of us to turn the tide.

How can we do it? More people need to understand the damage this illicit business is doing to our environment, livelihoods, communities and security. We must change our habits and behaviour so that demand for illegal wildlife products falls. More awareness and action pushes governments and international bodies to introduce and enforce tougher laws and combat those still willing to break them.

This year’s theme for WED – Go Wild for Life – encourages you to celebrate all those species under threat and take action of your own to help safeguard them for future generations. This can be about animals or plants that are threatened within your local area as well as at the national or global level - many local extinctions will eventually add up to a global extinction! Whoever you are, and wherever you live, show zero-tolerance for the illegal trade in wildlife in word and deed, and make a difference.



World Environment Day (WED) is the United Nations’ most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Since it began in 1974, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in over 100 countries.


Above all, WED serves as the ‘people’s day’ for doing something to take care of the Earth or become an agent of change. That ‘something’ can be focused locally, nationally or globally; it can be a solo action or involve a crowd – everyone is free to choose. 


Every WED has a different global host country, where the official celebrations take place. WED highlights the environmental challenges facing that country, and supports the effort to address them. This year’s host is Angola.


Through decades of WED celebrations, millions of people from all over the world and from all sectors of society have taken part in environmental action. By bundling their energy, WED has the power to generate hugely positive impacts on the planet.


WED 2015 saw a total of 2,861 registered activities with 1.26 million people participating worldwide. Please register your activity so we can feature it on our WED Community Map and inspire others to join in.


Since its inception in 1974, World Environment Day has developed into a global platform for raising awareness and taking action on increasingly urgent issues from marine pollution and global warming to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime. Millions of people around the world have been motivated by the ‘people’s day’ for action, and are increasingly weaving their activities into a global movement through the expanding WED website and social media.

1972 - 1982

UN designates June 5 as World Environment Day in 1972; two years later, WED is celebrated for the first time under the slogan “Only One Earth.”

1972 The UN General Assembly designates June 5 as World Environment Day (WED), marking the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Another resolution, adopted by the General Assembly the same day, leads to the creation of UNEP.

1974 WED is celebrated for the first time with the slogan “Only One Earth.”

1977 UNEP leverages the day to highlight concern about the ozone layer, setting a trend for WED to generate vital early support for critical environmental issues. It takes another ten years to seal the landmark Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

1979 The WED theme “Only One Future for Our Children” coincides with the International Year of the Child. For the first time, WED formally echoes a UN-designated international year, a pattern that becomes common as environmental problems rise up the global agenda.

1981 WED draws attention to how toxic chemicals affect groundwater and food chains. The next year, UNEP’s Governing Council adopts the Montevideo Programme, setting priorities for global law-making that lead to major international agreements restricting or eliminating an array of hazardous chemicals and pollutants.

1983 - 1992

WED’s profile grows as it boosts campaigns around global priorities including climate change and sustainable development; official WED celebrations start rotating around the globe

1986 The WED theme “A Tree for Peace” coincides with the International Year of Peace. Reflecting WED’s growing profile, political and religious leaders including French President Francois Mitterand, Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni take part in a “Global Ceremony” by planting a tree and stressing the links between conflict and environmental destruction.

1987 UNEP marks World Environment Day at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, by presenting the first of its Global 500 awards to environmental champions including Wangari Maathai. The prestigious awards become a mainstay of the annual WED celebrations through 2003.

1988 WED’s main celebrations begin to rotate around the globe, starting in Bangkok, Thailand. The theme of “When People Put the Environment First, Development Will Last” comes a year after the Brundtland Report laid out its influential blueprint for sustainability.

1989 A year after the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, WED celebrations hosted by Brussels, Belgium echo mounting concern about global warming. The theme will be re-visited more than any other on subsequent WEDs.1992 WED is held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the UN Conference on Environment and Development, better known as the Earth Summit. Nations negotiate landmark on climate change, desertification and biodiversity, and set the course for contemporary sustainable development.

1993 - 2002

Nations accounting for nearly one-third of the world’s population take turns hosting WED, including China (twice), Russia, Japan and Turkey; WED goes digital.

1993 China hosts WED in Beijing, raising environmental awareness in the world’s most populous nation, under the theme “Poverty and the Environment - Breaking the Vicious Circle.” The event will return to China in 2002, hosted by the city of Shenzen.

1995 South Africa hosts WED a year after Nelson Mandela became president. Mandela attends the formal celebrations, drawing huge international attention to environmental themes. A year earlier, the anti-apartheid leader used WED to declare South Africa’s Table Mountain a “gift to the Earth” and a demonstration of his country’s commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

1996 Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa receives a posthumous Global 500 award during WED celebrations in Ankara, Turkey. With the award, WED throws a spotlight on the link between human rights and the environment.

1998 WED spotlights threats to the marine environment for the first time, using the theme of “For Life on Earth – Save our Seas” in support of the International Year of the Ocean. Moscow, Russia, hosted the celebrations.

2000 UNEP launches the first fully developed WED website, making it easy for people around the world to register their activities and building a sense of global community. Main WED events took place in Adelaide, Australia under the theme “The Environment Millennium – Time to Act,” ahead of the international summit that set out the Millennium Development Goals.

2001 Secretary General Kofi Annan chooses WED to formally launch the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, an international effort to map the health of the planet. Reflecting the theme “Connect with the World Wide Web of Life,” WED’s international festivities took place across several cities: Torino, Italy and Havana, Cuba as well as in Hue, Vietnam and Nairobi, Kenya.

2003 - 2012

People around the world register more than 4,000 WED activities (in 2011) and visit the website more than 4.25 million times (in 2012); the Arab world and the United States host WED for the first time; WED draws attention to climate change for three consecutive years.

2003 The main WED celebrations take place in Beirut, Lebanon, the first time they have been hosted in the Arab world. The theme of “Water – Two Billion People are Dying for It!” is chosen in support of the International Year of Fresh Water.

2005 WED is held in North America for the first time, with San Francisco hosting hundreds of events around the theme “Green Cities: Plan for the Planet.” WED’s profile in the year the Kyoto Protocol comes into force and the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment is released is lifted by the participation of former US Vice-President Al Gore and former Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom.

2006 A decade after the UN Convention to Combat Desertification came into force, WED delivers a reminder of the pressures on drylands when Algiers, Algeria hosts the celebrations under the slogan “Deserts and Desertification – Don’t Desert Drylands!”

2007 The theme “Melting Ice? – A Hot Topic”, hosted by Tromsø, Norway, marks the first of three consecutive years in which WED draws attention to climate change, in the same year that the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report stated that warming of the climate is unequivocal.

2010 The WED Legacy Initiative raises more than $85,000 for gorilla conservation and solar lighting in villages across host country Rwanda. WED uses a global online competition to name several baby gorillas, drawing attention to their threatened status during International Year of Biodiversity.

2011 The first WED Challenge sees actor Don Cheadle attract more online followers than supermodel Gisele Buendchen, whose forfeit is to create a forest. The following year, Gisele plants the first of 50,000 trees in Rio de Janeiro’s Grumari Municipal Park.

2012 Twenty years after the Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil becomes the first city to host WED for a second time. The WED theme of “Green Economy: Does it Include You?” amplifies the UNEP-led Green Economy Initiative. The WED website records more than 4.25 million visits, a new record.


WED embraces smaller and less-developed nations while tackling even bigger topics: from sustainable consumption to the illegal trade in wildlife; the annual day of action that began more than 40 years earlier goes viral on social media.

2014 The WED theme “Raise Your Voice Not the Sea Level!” builds awareness of the dangers facing island nations from climate change. The next year, small island states secure agreement at the Paris climate talks to pursue the ambitious goal of limiting the increase in average global temperature to 1.5C.

2015 WED goes viral: hosted by Milan, Italy under the theme “Seven Billion People. One Planet. Consume with Care,” WED is the most popular subject on Twitter in more than 20 countries; more than 500 videos on WED are posted on YouTube, including news clips, TV documentaries, event footage, music videos and animations.


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