Earth Day 2020: Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough, Barack Obama and more send messages as millions protest online

Dozens of prominent figures including former President Barack Obama, the Pope, youth activist Greta Thunberg and naturalist Sir David Attenborough have shared messages on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

President Trump took part in a tree-planting ceremony with First Lady Melania at the White House but was mocked for his efforts after he has continually called the climate crisis a “hoax” and failed to take action to tackle it.

Thunberg, who helped inspire millions of youth activists with her Fridays For Future school strikes, tweeted: “Every day is #EarthDay. The changes needed to safeguard future living conditions for all species won’t come from governments or businesses. It will come from the best available science and public opinion. So it’s up to us. Spread the science. #unitebehindthescience”

Download the new Independent Premium app

Sharing the full story, not just the headlines

The first Earth Day on 22 April, 1970 saw 20 million Americans, 10% of the population at the time, demonstrate from coast to coast. Half a century later, millions around the world were expected to take part in the annual day of environmental action to address the huge challenges facing our planet.

This year’s planned in-person gatherings were cancelled after the coronavirus outbreak but the movement pivoted to 72-hours of digital action instead, focusing on the theme of climate action.

Meanwhile, the lockdowns introduced across the world have seen the skies clearing of pollution and wildlife returning to deserted streets, while US oil prices plunged below zero for the first time in history.

Catch-up on events as they happened


Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coverage of Earth Day 2020 


72-hour livestream brings Earth Day online

This year’s plans for massive in-person events have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic but the movement has pivoted to 72-hours of digital action.

Jane Fonda, Joaquin Phoenix and Al Gore are among the stars speaking on the ongoing climate crisis, alongside leading scientists and journalists. 

The theme for this year is climate action, with 2020 seen as a tipping point for action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving the UN goal of keeping global warming below 2C.


What is Earth Day?

Earth Day has now reached its 50th year, and according to the Earth Day Network (EDN) over one billion people in 192 countries are thought to have taken part in last year’s event.

The celebration marks the anniversary of the birth of the environmental movement in 1970.

Modern environmentalism is largely credited as starting with the publication of Rachel Carson’s bestselling book Silent Spring – documented the effects of the indiscriminate use of pesticides – in 1962.

Read more here: 



World must show ‘same determination against climate change as against coronavirus’, UN experts say

The world must “show the same determination and unity” against the accelerating problem of climate change as against coronavirus, UN experts have urged.

A report from the World Meteorological Organisation released to mark the 50th anniversary of the annual Earth Day event, confirms the past five years have been the hottest on record globally.

WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas said: “Whilst Covid-19 has caused a severe international health and economic crisis, failure to tackle climate change may threaten human wellbeing, ecosystems and economies for centuries.

“We need to flatten both the pandemic and climate change curves.”


Looking back at the seminal Earth Day moments over the last 50 years

The first Earth Day came about after Senator Gaylord Nelson witnessed the impact of an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969 and wanted to harness the energy of the youth-driven, anti-Vietnam War movement into environmental action.

From student ‘teach-ins’ in the Seventies, the movement now involves up to a billion people around the world demanding environmental action 

The Independent’s climate correspondent Louise Boyle takes a look back at Earth Day over half a century: 


 World is facing ‘deeper emergency’ than coronavirus, UN chief warns

The UN’s secretary general has urged nations to solve the climate crisis in unison once they emerge from the damages caused by coronavirus. 

Antonio Guterres said that while the impact of the virus on global society had been “immediate and dreadful”, there was “another, even deeper emergency – the planet’s unfolding environmental crisis”.

Read Vincent Wood’s report here:



Dalai Lama: ‘We can no longer exploit the resources of this earth’

The Dalai Lama has urged people to “resolve to live in harmony with nature” in a message to mark Earth Day. 


Last year was Europe’s hottest on record, scientists find 

Eleven out of the 12 hottest years to date have all occurred since 2000, according to a new report by the European Union’s climate monitoring service.

Last year was the hottest year on record for Europe after scorching heatwaves led to record-breaking temperatures in February, June and July, scientists from the Copernicus Climate Change Service (CS3) said in the annual European State of the Climate report. 

Read more about the report published on Earth Day here:


Artist Olafur Eliasson releases interactive animations to mark Earth Day

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson has begun to release a series of orange and pink coloured images of the Earth to encourage people to gain a new view of the world. 

People should stare at the dot in the centre of each image for 10 seconds and then focus on a blank surface where an afterimage will appear. The artist will release a series of these images,  hourly from 10am on Instagram, and hopes to encourage mass participation around the world. 



How coronavirus lockdowns changed the world’s most polluted cities

While the coronavirus pandemic has forced the UN to postpone the COP26 international climate conference, it has also created a global experiment in reducing pollution in some of the world’s busiest cities.

From New Delhi to Milan, the air has become cleaner, albeit temporarily, as people stay at home.

Conrad Duncan reports on this unintended consequence of lockdowns around the world


Surfers Against Sewage urges public to expose plastic polluters

To mark Earth Day, Surfers Against Sewage is launching a campaign, #ReturnToOffender, urging the public to document plastic pollution on their daily walks during lockdown. 

The campaign asks people to upload these photos on social media to challenge companies to tackle the plastic problem.


 Live animal markets and wildlife trade continue in Asia amid coronavirus pandemic

In parts of China and regions of Southeast Asia, live animal markets and the wildlife trade continues despite growing international calls for tighter restrictions on “wet” markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine.

The novel coronavirus outbreak is believed to have originated at a wildlife market in Wuhan, China and spread to humans due to their close proximity with wild animals.

Read our climate correspondent Louise Boyle’s report here: 



‘We have sinned against the Earth,’ Pope says

Pope Francis made an impassioned plea to protect the environment on Earth Day, saying the coronavirus pandemic had shown that some challenges had to be met with a global response.

Francis praised the environmental movement, saying it was necessary for young people to “take to the streets to teach us what is obvious, that is, that there will be no future for us if we destroy the environment that sustains us”.

He added that the Earth was not an endless deposit of resources to exploit, saying: “We have sinned against the Earth, against our neighbour and, in the end, against the creator.”


Greta Thunberg: Tackle climate crisis and coronavirus together

Greta Thunberg said action to tackle coronavirus did not mean the climate crisis had gone away, as she took part in a livestreamed conversation with climate scientist Johan Rockström. 

“Today is Earth Day and that reminds us that climate and the environmental emergency is still ongoing and we need to tackle both the corona pandemic… at the same time as we tackle climate and environmental emergency, because we need to tackle two crises at once,” the 17-year-old climate activist said. 



Fears Deepwater Horizon could happen again

A decade on, a group of scientists, conservationists and locals spoke to The Independent about the devastating toll of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the impacts that are still being felt today.

All of them fear that this could happen again, our climate correspondent Louise Boyle writes.




Green party calls for Green New Deal to reboot economy after pandemic

The Green Party has said that a “Green New Deal” has to be central to any post-coronavirus recovery package in the UK.

The party wants to see investment in making all homes warmer and more energy efficient, a rapid roll out of renewable energy and major investments in public transport, which it says would create hundreds of thousands of low carbon jobs.


Oxford University votes to divest from fossil fuels

Oxford University has passed a motion requiring its endowment fund to divest from all direct investments in fossil fuel companies, and end future investment in funds that primarily hold stock in fossil fuel companies.

The resolution, which was passed the day before Earth Day, was hailed as an opportunity to allow Oxford University “to act as a world leader on climate conscious investment”.


The first Earth Day demonstrators wore face masks too

Environmentalist Bill McKibben also pointed out the surgical masks used by Earth Day participants in 1970 due to the air pollution in America at the time.



North pole ‘to be ice free during summers before 2050’, scientists say

The Arctic Ocean will likely be ice-free during summers before 2050, researchers say.

Amid rapid global warming – with average Arctic temperatures already 2C above what they were in the pre-industrial era – the extent of the sea ice is diminishing ever faster.

Read Harry Cockburn’s report here: 


Greta’s fiery message on Earth Day

Greta Thunberg’s Fridays For Future movement posted this fiery public service announcement on Earth Day. It echoed her words at last year’s Davos World Economic Forum: “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”