Highlights of 2009 - The Year at a Glance Thu, Dec 31, 2009

2009 was a busy year for the environment. From the 2009 "International Year of Gorilla" to the "Seal the Deal!" campaign for the Copenhagen Climate Meeting in December, here is a brief overview of some of UNEP's activities over the last 12 months.

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2009 was a busy year for the environment. From the 2009 "International Year of Gorilla" to the "Seal the Deal!" campaign for the Copenhagen Climate Meeting in December, here is a brief overview of some of UNEP's activities over the last 12 months.

January 2009

  • 2009 was declared the International Year of the Gorilla in a bid to draw attention to the rapidly declining number of different gorilla species in Africa. It aimed to raise awareness and funds for the conservation of gorillas throughout Africa.


  • Australian cities, including Sydney and Brisbane, and corporations pledged to lower carbon emissions by joining the Climate Neutral Network (CN Net), led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The CN Net expanded throughout 2009, bringing into its fold some 200 participants, including ten countries, three regions, 16 cities, approximately 100 private companies, UN agencies and leading NGOs.
  • A global crackdown on the poisonous pollutant mercury was agreed by environment ministers at the end of the UNEP Governing Council. The landmark decision, taken by over 140 countries, sets the stage for the lifting of a major health threat from the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

  • UNEP launched its yearbook for 2009, which "presents the hard facts and worrying trends, while also underlining some of the transformational and innovative ideas already being piloted in both the developed and developing world."
  • UNEP's Food Crisis report outlined a seven point plan to reduce the risk of hunger and rising food insecurity in the 21st century.

  • At the end of the month, impoverished urban youth from several African countries climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, with the Kilimanjaro initiative, under the campaign banner UNite to Combat Climate Change.


  • A UN World Water Development Report entitled 'Water in a Changing World' was released describing the increasing pressure on water resources.

  • UNEP joined the world during Earth Hour on March 28 and turned off its lights for one hour helping to raise awareness about the issue of climate change.


  • More than 700 leaders from business, civil society, international organizations and government met at the Business for the Environment Global Summit in Paris on 22-23 April to discuss ways of powering green growth around the globe.

  • During a visit to the Gaza Strip and Israel, UNEP continued to promote Green Economy and urge environmental cooperation between the two parties.

  • UNEP announced its 2009 Champions of the Earth. The ceremony took place on Earth Day in Paris. The winners were: Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim; tropical forest and climate campaigner Kevin Conrad; photographic and public awareness pioneer Yann Arthus-Bertrand; wind power entrepreneur Tulsi Tanti; biomimicry specialist Janine Benyus; recycling innovator Ron Gonen; and the youth-empowering Ethiopian organization Tena Kebena. World-renowned French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand was also nominated UNEP Goodwill Ambassador during the same event.

  • At the end of the month, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the "Seal the Deal" UN global campaign, urging governments to seal the deal on a fair, balanced and effective agreement in December 2009, in Copenhagen at the UN Climate Change meeting.


  • The Maldives joined the Climate Neutral Network (CN Net) and pledged to become the world's first carbon neutral nation within the next decade.

  • For the first time ever, five leaders, a Brazilian scientific support centre, and a leading Swiss laboratory among them, received the Green Star Awards. The Green Star Awards are a joint initiative between UNEP, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Green Cross International to recognize those who have made remarkable efforts to prevent, prepare for, and respond to environmental disasters around the world.

  • Countries around the world also came to major agreements on chemical use. The parties of the Stockholm Convention decided to move towards reduced use of DDT and add nine persistent organic pollutants to the Convention, which targets certain hazardous pesticides and industrial chemicals that can damage the nervous and immune systems, cause cancer and reproductive disorders, interfere with normal infant and child development, and kill people.

  • In an important message during the World Oceans Conference in mid-May, UNEP stressed the importance of protecting world oceans. UNEP estimated that 80% of pollution in oceans came from factories, while shipping transport was also to blame.
  • On the International Biological Diversity Day 2009, UNEP drew attention to the invasive species problem worldwide. Water hyacinth, for example, has spread in over 50 countries causing enormous economic losses.


  • Thousands of people around the planet celebrated World Environment Day (WED), from small remote villages to sprawling capitals. On every continent, children, companies, mayors and heads of state came together to unite to combat climate change under the banner of the UN event, heeding Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's call that 'Your Planet Needs You'.

  • Echoing the 'Healing the Earth' ceremonies of Mexico's ancient Mayan civilization, President Calderón announced on World Environment Day (WED) his government's landmark plans to combat climate change alongside the establishment of new protected areas. In a wide ranging speech, flanked by several key ministers including those from finance and the environment, the Mexican president said the country would voluntarily cut global warming gases by 50 million tones a year.

  • The United Nations officially declared June 8th each year, beginning in 2009, World Oceans Day. This day is an opportunity to honour the world's oceans, celebrate the products the oceans provide, as well as marine life itself. It is also a time to appreciate their intrinsic value as oceans also provide sea-lanes for international trade. Global pollution and over-consumption of fish have resulted in drastically dwindling population of the majority of species.


  • The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and UNEP called for the widespread uptake of 'green' agricultural practices that will deliver multiple benefits to the world's rapidly growing populations - from combating climate change and eradicating poverty to boosting food production and providing sustainable sources of timber. The call was made at the launch of the 2nd World Congress of Agroforestry, 23 to 28 August 2009.


  • At one of the largest-ever truly global youth gatherings on climate change in the Republic of Korea, some 700 young people, ranging from 10 to 24 years of age, emphasized the need for strong vision and leadership. World leaders later received personal letters from the children and youth.


  • A multimillion dollar appeal to save the Mau Forests Complex was launched by the Government of Kenya at a Partners Forum hosted by UNEP. The appeal aimed to mobilize resources for the rehabilitation of the Mau, the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem in Kenya covering over 400,000 hectares - the size of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares combined.

  • UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited the Arctic to see climate change impacts on melting of ice.

  • On 20 September, Brazil-born Gisele Bündchen, one of the most recognized top models of all time, was designated UNEP Goodwill Ambassador. As Goodwill Ambassador, Gisele Bündchen will help UNEP in its mission to raise awareness and inspire action to protect the environment.

  • UNEP launched the first-ever Global Climate Week from September 21 to 25. Broadcasters, Hollywood stars, politicians and models joined calls to "Seal the Deal".
  • The Billion Tree Campaign, launched in 2006, hit the 7 billion tree mark, one tree planted for every person on the planet. By December 2009, 7,445,831,185 trees were planted and 9,105,964,414 pledged.


  • A new Rapid Response Report estimated that carbon emissions (equal to half the annual emissions of the global transport sector) are being captured and stored by marine ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrasses. The report entitled Blue Carbon: the Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon was prepared by UNEP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.

  • In mid-October, UNEP hosted an African parliamentarian's conference at UNEP's global headquarters. The conference was entitled "Climate Change: One Africa, One Voice, One Position" The summit was attended by over 63 parliamentarians from across the continent.


  • Five more countries - Argentina, Cambodia, Ecuador, Nepal and Sri Lanka - joined the UN Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Programme (UN REDD).


  • Ahead of the UN climate change meeting, more than 400 negotiators took the Climate Express train to Copenhagen. The Climate Express, a carbon-free train, was organized by the International Union of Railways (UIC) with the support of UNEP and WWF, the global conservation organization.
  • Thousands of people from Bangkok to Washington and Cameroon to Vladivostok added their signature to the Seal the Deal banners which formed part of the Climate Petition and Maze calling on governments to seal a new climate deal in Copenhagen. The Climate Maze and its accompanying Hard Rain photographic exhibition were officially opened by the Copenhagen Mayor for Technical and Environmental Administration, Klaus Bondham; the UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, and Hard Rain project creator, Mark Edwards.

  • UNEP launched the UN Climate Wall, an installation embedded with over 100 authentic testimonies and real-life stories describing how climate change is impacting the lives of people around the world.

  • During the Copenhagen meeting, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Billion Tree Campaign patron Wangari Maathai was appointed the UN Messenger of Peace.

  • At the end of the Copenhagen climate talks, nations sealed a deal and agreed to 'take note' of a document entitled the Copenhagen Accord. The Accord recognized the crucial role of forests in addressing climate change, saying there was a need to recognize REDD+ via the immediate establishment of a mechanism to enable the mobilization of financial resources from developed countries.

  • Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UNEP, said: "This was perhaps not the big breakthrough some had hoped for, but neither was it a breakdown which at times seemed a possibility. The litmus test of developed countries' ambitions will in a sense come immediately. If the funds promised in the Accord start flowing swiftly and to the levels announced, then a new international climate change policy may have been born."

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