Erik Solheim on Facing the Future of Climate Change
Advocacy The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme opens up on climate change — the obstacles we face, and our best hope for reversing the damage.
According to an annual report from the United Nations, the global temperature is on track to increase 2.9 to 3.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. One thing is crystal clear: we have to act now — and act decisively — if we want to stem the rising tide of climate change. Thankfully, since its founding in the early 1970s, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been an authority on the environment, spreading awareness and pioneering ambitious efforts to create a more sustainable future. Their annual event, World Environment Day, encourages all citizens of the world to appreciate and protect the nature that surrounds and sustains us. Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the UNEP, talks about this annual celebration, the Programme’s goals for 2017 and the obstacles we’re facing in our fight on climate change.
What is the primary reason why this year’s World Environment Day is themed around connecting people with nature?
Erik Solheim: Every year on June 5, World Environment Day reminds us of the value of the world around us, and how our environment impacts our health and our quality of life. This year, we need to rediscover and deepen that connection, and grasp that we can all have a positive impact through the choices we make.
What are your goals for this year, and are you on track to meeting them?
We're campaigning hard this year on air quality, on ending the illegal trade in wildlife and on stopping oceans from being used as a dumping ground for plastics. We are also working to build relations with the private sector, while we’re engaging with governments on holding an Environment Assembly at the end of the year. I hope we’ll see major commitments on tackling pollution. I'm convinced we're making excellent progress across our work and that we have solid momentum.
In your opinion, what responsibility does federal policy have versus community engagement in creating a more sustainable world?
We need both. Legislation is essential, because we need, at the macro level, to have a basic framework for economies to function in a sustainable fashion. Community level engagement is micro-level engagement, but when multiplied across a country it becomes an extremely powerful force.
On a global scale, what are the largest obstacles facing our fight to combat climate change?
I think we've already made a big breakthrough in seeing the need for climate action as an opportunity rather than a cost. In addition, we've seen countries like China and India assume leadership roles in pushing the Green Economy message. The big challenge, however, is time. We have a small window of opportunity to reverse the current trends.