Stockholm+50: How Far Have We Come?
The first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm (1972) os of existential importance to Habitat International Coalition. HIC always harkens back to its birth in the first UN Conference on Housing and Human Settlements (Habitat I) at Vancouver (1976). However, as Habitat I was a specialized follow-up to the seminal Stockholm Conference, HIC also refers to Stockholm as its conception.
This year marks a half century since that groundbreaking 1972 conference, and its commemoration at Stockholm+50 (2–3 June 2022) was both a reflection on the historical legacy of Stockholm 1972 and an ominous look into our collective future. However, Stockholm+50, co-chaired by the president of Kenya and the prime minister of Sweden, was relatively modest; it was not billed as a major summit. Officially, it was not even a “conference,” but only an international “meeting” with unwieldy theme: “A Healthy Planet for the Prosperity of All – Our Responsibility, Our Opportunity.”
Another kind of stocktaking was hosted by the pre-sessional Peoples’ Forum for Environment and Global Justice also at Stockholm (31 May–1 June 2022), There, civil society consulted and prepared for the official conference, featuring a range of expertise and experience, from Indigenous Peoples’ testimonies, to reflections by persistent activists who recounted their experience at the 1972 conference. Those voices reminded participants—if indeed anyone had forgotten—how slow is the process of codifying international norms and standards, and how their implementation can be slower still.
At the Peoples Forum, HIC-HLRN Coordinator Joseph Schechla participated in a core session on “Global solidarity for a fair and democratic multilateralism and resources for global needs” (@ 2:04:15), His message focused on (1) the progressive evolution human rights norms as insufficient, but nonetheless indispensable; (2) how HIC-HLRN’s human-right-to-land thesis promotes alignment with Indigenous Peoples’ symbiotic relationship with land and the environment, and (3) that extraterritorial human rights obligations and international cooperation principles make solidarity, including with future generations, a duty within the international rule-based order as developed.
Comparing Stockholm+50 to the earlier events such as the environment and sustainable development conferences of 1992, 2002 and 2012, some characterized this year’s ‘meeting as marking a decline of sustainability summitry and governance. Others noted also the continuity of unheeded calls by prime ministers Olof Palme (Sweden) and Indira Gandhi (India) at Stockholm 1972.
The June 2022 meeting took place amid official delegations’ demonstrably declining appetite for hearing about states’ standing obligations, as reflected in the current generation of conferencing in the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, High Level Political Forum, the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Summit of the Future.
Today’s gravitational center of environmental-policy decision making is the United Nations Environment Assembly, which held its own special session to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme in March 2022 in Nairobi (UNEP@50).
Nonetheless, the Stockholm+50 international meeting has been seen as a springboard to accelerate the implementation of the UN Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. Stockholm+50 also reinforced the messages and the outcomes of the event to commemorate UNEP’s 50th anniversary. The two-day international meeting, deliberated organizational matters, held four plenary sessions, three leadership dialogues, and compiled meeting outcomes.
Amid calls for resetting our relationship with nature and the General Assembly’s recognition of a right to clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the meeting achieved agreement on numerous principles, including:
- Local communities should be partners and decision makers in all mining activities; · Global value chains should become sustainable and prioritize traditional and local producers and markets; · All trade and investment should ensure respect for human rights and fair prices for small-scale producers and local communities;
- Sustainable finance should be available for achieving sustainable development; · Full recognition is needed of the short-, medium- and long-term environmental impact of companies’ operations in financial markets;
- The energy transition, including the development and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency, is needed;
- A major shift in agriculture and livestock farming practices is required, including through the promotion of agroecological farming, the use of biofertilizers and the application of alternatives to chemical pesticides, as well as the provision of financial and technical support to local farming communities and small-scale farmers;
- Environmental conservation should be encouraged through the creation of protected areas;
- The use of nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches should be extended to curb land degradation and tackle climate change;
- Business-as-usual urban development models that result in urban sprawl, segregation and privatization should be replaced with models that produce compact, integrated and connected cities that minimize environmental impact and improve the health and quality of life of citizens; the “One Health” approach;
- The science-policy interface should be strengthened;
- Natural capital accounting should be expanded;
- Plastic pollution needs to be tackled, including through national measures to phase out harmful plastics and through the negotiation by 2024 of a new treaty to end plastic pollution;
- Oceans and other water resources should be protected and used sustainably;
- All countries should fully implement the “polluter pays” principle;
- Environmental education should be introduced from a young age, accompanied by training in the knowledge and skills needed to work in the green economy and digital transformation;
- A rights-based approach should be implemented, whereby individuals would enjoy an enforceable right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment;
- Participatory and inclusive decision-making processes should be adopted at every level to ensure the meaningful engagement of all rights-holders, especially youth and the vulnerable;
- A strong legal framework should be developed, under which transnational corporations would be held liable for environmental damage and those affected would have access to justice.
Stakeholders issued a further set of demands. One of the related initiatives voiced loudly at the conference was the call for a new Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty. That raised old controversies, but not about the harm from the use of fossil fuels. While that scientific fact has become a matter of consensus since 1972, a similar proposal 50 years ago invoked suspicion that the proposal concealed an attempt to formalize a double standard on the part of rich countries’ governments to prevent developing states from developing with their natural resources, while preserving impunity for historic polluters. The current initiative still remains ambiguous. Not yet offering a draft text, set of implementation principles, or other needed specificity.
Youth stakeholders critically cast Stockholm+50 as “yet another environmental conference asking to be listened to” in the face of a “lack of political will and political courage.” Youth rhetorically asked “where is leadership,” while noting that climate activists and environment defenders are being criminalized and persecuted to the favor of the fossil-fuel industry’s greed (@ 1/14:50).
The youthful message from a PUSH Sweden representative (@2:06:00) asserted that the Global Youth Policy Paper is the action plan coming out of Stockholm+50, He summarized by calling on states to criminalize ecocide and end tax evasion, ensuring that all must do their fair share. He concluded by saying: “We are tomorrow, but I am afraid we might not have a future. So step up, or step aside. Our lives depend on it.”
The meeting’s report summarized Stockholm+50’s recommendations for accelerating action toward a healthy planet for the prosperity as follows:
- Place human well-being at the center of a healthy planet and prosperity for all, through recognizing that a healthy planet is a prerequisite for peaceful, cohesive and prosperous societies; restoring our relationship with nature by integrating ethical values; and adopting a fundamental change in attitudes, habits and behaviours to support our common prosperity.
- Recognize and implement the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, through fulfilling the vision articulated in principle 1 of the 1972 Stockholm Declaration.
- Adopt a system-wide change in the way our current economic system works to contribute to a healthy planet, through defining and adopting new measures of progress and human well-being, supported by economic and fiscal policies that account for the value of the environment; investing in infrastructure, developing effective policy and encouraging a global dialogue to promote sustainable consumption and production; and promoting the phasing-out of fossil fuels while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable, in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for financial and technical support towards a just transition.
- Strengthen national implementation of existing commitments for a healthy planet, through enhancing national environmental legislation, budgets, planning processes and institutional frameworks; promoting evidence-based policymaking, including by enhanced collaboration between academic disciplines and thematic scientific panels, drawing on insights and expertise from indigenous and traditional knowledge; and scaling up capacity support and development, access to and financing for environmentally sound technologies.
- Align public and private financial flows with environmental, climate and sustainable development commitments, through developing and implementing well-designed policies to repurpose environmentally harmful subsidies; redirecting, mobilizing and scaling up the availability of public and private financial flows to support economic diversification; and adopting recovery and stimulus measures, blended sources of capital and de-risking instruments that augment financial flows.
- Accelerate system-wide transformations of high impact sectors, such as food, energy, water, building and construction, manufacturing and mobility, through adopting and implementing policies to promote circularity, resource efficiency, regenerative production approaches and nature-based solutions in value chains, and adopting frameworks that enhance and reinforce transparency and accountability by business; promoting just transitions through support for impacted youth, labour and local communities by strengthening capacity and skills for the creation of green jobs and for micro-, small and medium enterprises; and transforming food systems by promoting regenerative farming and fisheries approaches that provide healthy diets and minimize food waste, including investments in the ocean economy.
- Rebuild relationships of trust for strengthened cooperation and solidarity, through recognizing the importance of developed country leadership in promoting sustainability transitions; supporting capacity-building and technology transfer for national efforts by developing countries to implement internationally agreed environmental agreements, taking into account national circumstances, including honouring the commitment to mobilize $100 billion every year for climate finance for developing countries; and enabling all relevant stakeholders, including youth, women, rural communities, indigenous peoples, interfaith groups and local communities, to participate meaningfully in policy formulation and implementation at both the national and international levels.
- Reinforce and reinvigorate the multilateral system, through ensuring an effective rules-based multilateral system that supports countries in delivering on their national and global commitments, to ensure fair and effective multilateralism; strengthening the environmental rule of law, including by promoting convergence and synergies within the United Nations system and between multilateral environmental agreements; and strengthening the United Nations Environment Programme, in line with the UNEP@50 political declaration.
- Recognize intergenerational responsibility as a cornerstone of sound policymaking, through engaging with the Stockholm+50 Global Youth Task Force and its policy paper; highlighting the important need to build the capacity of young people to engage with financial institutions; recognizing the critical role of young people in environmental action, highlighting the fact that progress has been made in fostering the meaningful engagement of youth, and calling upon multilateral environmental funds to include youth-inclusive parameters in their funding schemes and take further steps to ensure ease of access to funds for environmental action by youth-led organizations.
10.Take the Stockholm+50 outcomes forward through reinforcing and reenergizing the ongoing international processes, including a global framework for biodiversity, an implementing agreement for the protection of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction and the development of a new plastics convention; and engaging with relevant conferences, such as the 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference, the high-level political forum on sustainable development, the twenty-seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Summit of the Future.
Attending the conference, Mr. Schechla reflected that: “The Stockhol+50 meeting has shown us that 50 years has not been enough to avoid rapidly oncoming human-made environmental and climate disaster. Rather, it had reminded us how far we have yet to go to save each other and ourselves.”
Download the complete official report
Image on the front page: Stockholm+50 meeting logo. Source: UN. Photo on this page: Peoples Forum panel on international solidarity, 1 June 2022. Source: HLRN file photo.