« Raise your voice, not the sea level”: World Environment Day 2014 draws attention to the vulnerability of island states


This year’s World Environment Day focuses on the threat the rising sea level poses to developing island states, and encourages the citizens of the world to take action.


On 5 June, the 41st World Environment Day (WED) will be held across the planet but hosted by Barbados, one of the world’s Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The United Nations have in fact designated 2014 as the International Year of SIDS. Consequently, the United Nations Environment Programme – which runs WED – has chosen to put the specific threats climate change poses for SIDS at the heart of the event. Island States are much more vulnerable to global warming than other countries because of the rise in the sea level (see our article about this issue). For instance, by 2050, the Maldives – the flattest country on Earth, with 80% of its surface less than 1 metre above sea level – might see 80% of its territory absorbed by the Indian Ocean, hence the theme for this 2014 edition of World Environment Day: “Raise your voice, not the sea level.” “Our objectives are to help build momentum towards the Third International Conference on SIDS in September and encourage a greater understanding (…) of the urgency to help protect the islands in the face of growing risks and vulnerabilities, particularly as a result of climate change. We believe WED will be an excellent opportunity to raise a call for solidarity with the islands,” wrote the UNEP on the event’s website.

Collective responsibility

The UNEP is counting on the power of social media to raise awareness of the subject: it has been communicating this year’s Twitter hashtag, #WED2014, far and wide, and has organised a video blogging competition. The winner, Fatin Chowdhury, a 21-year-old environmental activist and student from Canada, was selected by a UNEP panel from among 70 entrants. He won a trip to Barbados to attend and cover events at the WED. Here is his video:

But WED is not just about raising awareness, it also supports concrete actions. “It also serves as the ‘people’s day’ for doing something positive for the environment, galvanizing individual actions into a collective power that generates an exponential positive impact on the planet.” Citizens from all over the world are invited to register their own special action to fight climate change on the website and to talk about it on social media. The organisers gave a list of examples: clean-up campaigns, food waste reduction initiatives, walk-to-work days, plastic bans, art exhibits, tree-planting drives, concerts, dance recitals, recycling drives, social media campaigns and different contests, etc. “Every action counts. When multiplied by a global chorus, our individual voices and actions become exponential in their impact.”

We may not live in the Maldives or Barbados. We might never even go there. But that does not mean that what happens there is no concern of ours. With this theme, WED efficiently highlights the fact that, because we live on the same planet, we share a common accountability for our impact on its ecosystem and on the people who inhabit it. It’s more than a matter of solidarity with Island States. It’s a matter of collective responsibility.

Photo © Shutterstock /bikeriderlondon

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