While we in the United States tend to celebrate Earth Day in April and then call it a year, most of the rest of the world also celebrates World Environment Day (WED) or la Journée Mondiale de l’Environnement (JEM) on June 5. Created by the United Nations in 1972, the year of the Stockholm conference:
“WED is one of the principal vehicles through which the UN stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and encourages political attention and action. Through WED, we are able to give a human face to environmental issues and enable people to realize not only their responsibility, but also their power to become agents for change in support of sustainable and equitable development. WED is also a day for advocating partnerships among all stakeholders or perhaps, even more correctly, among all species living on this one planet and sharing a common future.”
Unbeknownst to me here in Senegal, my last African home, Rwanda, served as this year’s global host. Again according to the UN, “Rwanda, this year’s global host for WED, organized a vivid celebration in the Volcanoes National Park that brought together a Hollywood star, the Rwandan President, environmentalists and businesses alongside 30,000 people.” For more details about the day, including Rwanda’s green economic growth initiatives, see here.
We here at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal celebrated la journée mondiale de l’environnement last Saturday with a day-long program of activities (see photos in gallery at right). The morning began with a tree planting (actually done the day before; Saturday was more of an instant replay for picture-taking purposes) and set setal or clean-up. Then there was an expo of student work on biodiversity, this year’s theme, with individuals presenting posters on their research ranging from definition and examples of biodiversity in Senegal and green economics to mangrove restoration and the laws governing biodiversity.
After lunch, a group of panelists from NGOs, government, and the university presented their perspectives on gestion de la biodiversité et developpement durable en Afrique or biodiversity management and sustainable development in Africa. Modou Thiam spoke about conservation and biodiversity management, focusing on his research of coastal fishing for GIRMAC or Gestion Intégrée des Ressources Marines et Côtiéres. Ablaye Ndiaye of Wetlands International focused on land-based conservation efforts, both here and in other African countries.
My colleague at the Faculté des sciences juridiques et politiques, Ibrahima Ly, presented a comprehensive comparative review of African biodiversity laws, noting the differences between civil and common law countries. Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem, a researcher at the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement (IRD), spoke about biodiversity and sustainable development at the local community level. She offered the term glocalisation to indicate the decentralization efforts to put natural resource management into the hands of various levels of local authorities. Each presenter taught the 200+ attendees a great deal and a lively debate ensued, both as a group and individually at the reception that followed. Thanks goodness for the moderator, Moctar Niang, former director of the Centre de Suivie Ecologique and in the Ministry of Water and Forests, whose firm hand on the time coupled with an easy going manner kept the trains running more or less on schedule.
The celebration continued into this week, when the law students I had in my last class, Les aspects juridiques des changements climatiques, organized a showing of Home (see photos in gallery at right). This film, based on the aerial photos of French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, presents a stunning concrete visualization of the planet’s biodiversity and human impact on it. (Some would say that this film presents the equivalent call to arms for French audiences that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was to the U.S. While the take-home message is similar, they are night and day in feel.) A lively debate ensued after the two-hour film, with a common theme about needing to learn more about what Senegalese can do about climate change and what actions these students could take. A promising outcome is the number of students who attended – some 50 – during the middle of a Thursday at the busy close of the semester. Student leaders hope to channel this energy into a relatively new NGO, Association Sénégalaise pour la Defense de l’Environnement or ASDE, based at the faculty.
And so la Journée Mondiale de l’Environnement 2010 comes to a close in Dakar, with a promise of continuing impact beyond this one Saturday.