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Connecting nature, people and climate

By Catherine McKenna | | Updated: 2017-06-05 16:58

We had to keep our voices low. In the distance - a few hundred meters from our canoes - was a large, majestic moose, calling out from across the lake. My three kids couldn't believe their luck.

After spending several days paddling through Canada's Algonquin Park, it was a sight and sound they won't soon forget. Today, as Canada's Minister of Environment and Climate Change, I'm still inspired by these moments in nature with my kids. I think everyone should experience this same wonder.

On June 5th, Canada is hosting World Environment Day, and this year the theme is 'connecting people to nature.' I'm encouraging people across the world to explore green spaces around them. It can be a local beach, a city park, or a sprawling forest in the hills. The point is: Amid the hum of your daily life, find a moment in nature.

I truly believe the first step to protecting nature is learning to appreciate it. And as environmental problems around the world advance - with rising temperatures, more frequent natural disasters, and declining biodiversity - the importance of connecting with nature only increases.

In Canada, we are celebrating World Environment Day across the country. You can learn to fish in a Nova Scotian wildlife reserve, practice yoga on the banks of Ontario's Niagara River, or go birding on mountain bikes in the rugged Yukon. And to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation - our government made it free to visit all national parks, historic sites, and marine conservation areas.

World Environment Day is an occasion of global engagement. In Kenya, volunteers are running a program to plant a thousand trees in local communities. In Mexico, beach cleanups are planned along the Nazas river. And in India alone, there are close to 200 events planned.

Organized through the UN Environment, World Environment Day has been a catalyst for change since 1974. It's been a platform to mobilize world leaders, business and citizens to reduce the hole in the ozone and end the scourge of acid rain. As early as the 1980's, World Environment Day began raising awareness about a new global threat, climate change.

That's right: There has been global awareness of climate change since the 1980's. Yet almost 40 years later, some still doubt the need to reduce carbon pollution, or expand the millions of jobs being created in the clean growth economy. Yet Canadians, scientists, business leaders and people around the world know better. We know that countries must continue, now more than ever, to work towards a low-carbon future. We know it's good for the economy and the environment, and our children and grandchildren deserve no less.

On World Environment Day the plan is simple: Get out into nature. Enjoy the singing birds in the park or the rustling of leaves near your home. Discover the mystery of nature to better understand our urgent need protect it.

You don't need to live in the countryside to appreciate nature. Erik Solheim, the Head of UN Environment, grew up in Norway's thrumming capital city of Oslo. Despite living in the city, he still experienced the woods and mountains surrounding it. As he puts it: "Nothing could beat exploring the hills and mysterious forests. There was adventure everywhere."

Experiences in nature are invaluable. My three children always look forward to summers filled with glowing fires, starry nights, and fishing for lake trout. Who can blame them? Like Erik, these memories last a lifetime and often shape the paths we follow.

On World Environment Day this June 5th, join me in celebrating the infinite beauty of our natural world by getting out into it!

The author is Catherine McKenna, who serves as Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Canada.

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