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50 years of good news for the environment

Words by Smiley Team

What milestones have been achieved for the environment over the past 50 years?

In the Smiley book – 50 Years of Good News – it details positive things that have happened in our world since the 1970s, and of course, that includes planet-friendly policies and choices. 

Here, we look back at a snapshot of them. 

1972: Ocean Conservancy Is Founded 

The Ocean Conservancy works to promote a healthy oceanic ecosystem through advocating for policy implementation, confronting climate threats, protecting endangered habitats from the Arctic to Florida, and cleaning up the trash that pollutes waterways and harms wildlife. One of the earliest accomplishments was to establish the Whale Protection Fund, which protected the species from commercial whaling and in 1982 saw a victory when the International Whaling Commission finally banned the practice.

1978: The Great Green Wall of China 

The Great Green Wall is China’s plan to help combat deforestation, designed to counteract an ever-expanding Gobi Desert by planting some 88 million acres of forest. With a wall stretching about 3,000 miles across northern China, the project is set to continue until 2050, when 100 billion trees will have been planted and one-tenth of the country dedicated toward tree growth.

1980: Triodos Bank Founded 

The Triodos Bank N.V. was founded with a mission of financing entrepreneurs who contribute to a fair and sustainable economy. Such organizations have amplified a sense of conscience in global business, inspiring others to put their money where their mouth is.

1982: Commercial Whale Hunting Is Banned Worldwide 

To protect whales after decades of extreme hunting and exploitation of the mammal for its meat, oil and blubber, the International Whaling Commission installed an indefinite moratorium on commercial whale hunting. The moratorium was put in place to protect the animal and prevent the species from going extinct.

1987: Montreal Protocol to Protect the Ozone Layer Is Enacted 

In an effort to safeguard the ozone layer and help it recover, the United Nations put together an international treaty to stop the production of ozone-depleting substances and phase out the chemicals causing its destruction. Adopted in 1987 and now signed by 198 countries, the Montreal Protocol is considered to be one of the most effective environmental global actions ever taken.

1990: Earth Day Goes Global

 After decades of a successful campaign in the United States to raise awareness about the crucial environmental threats facing the planet, the Earth Day movement went global. On April 22, 1990, over 200 million people in 141 countries mobilized to push the modern environmental movement onto the world stage.

1992: Rio Earth Summit Takes Place 

In a massive move toward a more sustainable future for the planet, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, otherwise known as the Rio Earth Summit, brought together scientists, political officials, diplomats, media representatives and members of nongovernmental organizations from over 179 countries to come up with attainable goals to achieve a healthier planet.

2006: Great Bear Rainforest Is Legally Protected Against Logging 

To protect the future of the Great Bear Rainforest ecosystem and its spectacular ancient trees and wildlife, the historic Great Bear Rainforest Agreement was reached, ultimately safeguarding over 7 million acres along the northern and central coasts of British Columbia.

2011: Arabian Oryx Becomes First Animal Brought Back from Extinction 

As a result of reintroduction efforts since 1982, this majestic animal found in the Middle East was able to climb its way out of extinction in the wild. Countries such as Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE concentrated their efforts into captive breeding to save the species.

2013: The Ocean Cleanup Project Is Launched 

The Ocean Cleanup is a nonprofit foundation founded by Boyan Slat when he was only eighteen with the mission to develop technology that extracts plastic pollution before it reaches the oceans. In 2020, the organization has taken a step further and developed its first product, “the Ocean Cleanup Sunglasses,” made from the recycled plastic it has removed from the ocean.

2014: The Billion Tree Tsunami 

The Billion Tree Tsunami was launched by the Pakistani government as a response to the challenge of global warming, aiming to restore 350,000 hectares of forests and degraded land. The government achieved its goal in 2017 and has now set the bar even higher: 10 billion trees by 2023.

2015: Almost 200 Countries Adopt the Paris Agreement 

The Paris Agreement is an international treaty on climate change that covers topics such as climate-change mitigation, adaptation and financing. The longterm goal of this treaty is to ensure that all countries take part in minimizing the 2015 steady climb of global warming that has already been detrimental to the planet.

2016: France Passes Law to Fight Food Waste 

France adapted a new law in 2016 that made it the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. Instead, they are only allowed to donate it to charities, food banks and other nongovernmental organizations. This law not only helps getting food to those who need it but also minimizes the harmful greenhouse emissions from food that ends up in landfill.

2019: Greta Thunberg Sparks Global Movement with Sail to UN Climate Conference 

While raising awareness on the carbon emissions from airplanes, climate activist Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic Ocean twice to attend UN climate conferences. The schoolgirl from Sweden helped spark a global movement of other students demanding actions from governments to fight climate change. Finding strength in numbers, young people have further come together though UNICEF’s “Youth for Climate Action” movement, which, through outlets like its Voices of Youth platform, is dedicated to elevating the voices of young people who are committed to protecting the future of our planet.

2019: Indigenous Tribe in Ecuador Wins Legal Battle to Protect Their Land 

The indigenous Waorani tribe marched through the streets of Puyo in victory when they had won a lawsuit against the Ecuadoran government for not properly consulting with them before opening up their territory to potential oil exploration. This final verdict saved around seven million acres of Amazonian forest and indigenous territory from oil drilling.

2019: India Plants 220 Million Trees 

More than a million people in India planted 220 million trees due to a government campaign that was launched to combat climate change and improve the environment. Students, lawmakers, officials and members of the public planted dozens of saplings of various species along roads and rail tracks and within the forests in Uttar Pradesh. The state is home to 220 million residents, a fact that inspired the number of trees to be planted: one for each resident.

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This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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