June 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972. It was the first UN conference to place environmental issues at the top of the international agenda.
In commemoration of this anniversary, the United Nations General Assembly convened the international meeting “Stockholm+50”, to be held on June 2 and 3, under the theme “A Healthy Planet for Prosperity for All: Our Responsibility, Our Opportunity.” Its central objectives are to rebuild trusting relationships, accelerate sustainable and inclusive recovery actions, build bridges between related agendas, and rethink international conceptions of progress and well-being including the environmental dimension.
The preparation process for the Stockholm+50 meeting included three key moments:
- A meeting convened by the President of the General Assembly in March 2022 which comprised a discussion on how to accelerate the implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development
- The regional multi-stakeholder consultation process
- More than 50 national multi-stakeholder consultations
However, precedents for this meeting are not encouraging.
- Over the last 50 years, the environmental situation has worsened. In 2021, the United Nations Environment Program, in its report “Making Peace with Nature”, identified that we are facing a triple planetary emergency: 1. climate change, 2. biodiversity loss and 3. pollution; an alarming situation that adds to the failure to meet the Aichi 2020 targets on biological diversity, aggravated by the impacts of COVID-19.
- Among the SDG targets to be met by 2020, most were directly related to environmental care and have not been met.
- The Russian aggression against Ukraine will also be discussed in Stockholm. The environmental consequences of the ongoing invasion promise to raise tensions.
- The General Assembly convened this meeting as an international meeting, without giving it a summit status, in addition to the efforts led by Russia and China to limit the participation of civil society during the planning sessions of Stockholm+50.
- The “mirage” in the reduction of CO2 emissions produced by the limitation of economic activities at the beginning of the pandemic vanished: the decrease in emissions gave way to an increase of close to 6% in 2021, a trend that would lead to a rise in emissions of nearly 14% before the end of the decade (Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, Report of the Secretary-General, 2022, paragraph 7).
Making environmental decisions, endorsed in the Paris Agreement, needs two elements that seem to be absent:
- More and better data: Target 17.18 of the SDGs calls for “enhancing capacity-building support to developing countries, including least developed countries and small island developing States, to significantly increase the availability of timely, reliable and high-quality data” by 2020. At present, we do not have the data to measure progress, and even less do we have a meaningful outcome in terms of environmental statistics, which are traditionally lagging.
- Political will: At the recent Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 26), held in Glasgow, countries’ ambitions did not respond to the people’s demands massively manifesting in the streets to demand environmental justice. And COP 15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which had to define new goals and was postponed several times due to COVID-19, only achieved insufficient and untimely agreements.
Stockholm 72 marked the beginning of an era; Stockholm+50 does not seem to stand up to what is required 50 years later.