3 Jun 2022 | Commentary | S+50

Stockholm+50: Action can wait no longer

This speech by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Inger Andersen was delivered at the closing plenary of Stockholm+50. It was first published on 3 June 2022 on the UNEP site

My huge thanks to the co-hosts – the Governments of Sweden and Kenya for their leadership in bringing us together to reflect on how we can tap into the spirit of 1972 to tackle the crisis of 2022. My thanks to heads of the state and government; to ministers; to civil society; to non-governmental organizations; to indigenous groups; to youth groups; to faith representatives; to scientists; to judges; to entrepreneurs and businesses; to UN colleagues.

The tent that we began building in 1972 has grown larger, bringing more under its roof every year. From this tent, the loudspeakers boom loud and clear – it is time for action. Period. Because a healthy planet is at the heart of human well-being.

Much ground has been covered by the speakers before me, so allow me to drill down on a few action points that have resonated within these walls over the last two days.

The right to a healthy environment is a human right that can wait no longer. Crimes against nature are crimes against people and crimes against future generations. Those that defend the environment are not the criminals. In 2020, 227 environmental rights defenders were killed for protecting the air, land and water we depend on. This is 227 too many.

Reshaping our economies can wait no longer . We must zero-in on high impact sectors. Food; energy; construction; manufacturing. mobility. This is about circularity, resource efficiency, nature-based solutions. And the bottom-line: decarbonization cannot wait any longer. Yes, the transition must be equitable. Not everyone can jump on the train at the same time. But everyone must be able to get to the station and make the journey.

Making good on financing commitments and re-aligning financial flows can wait no longer. Money makes the world go round, they say, but so far money has been making nature go down. This must stop.


Today, I took the time to listen to some powerful voices outside the youth climate strike in the centre of Stockholm. I heard strong voices. Impatient voices. Frustrated voices. We must heed the call to action. There are over one billion young people in the world. The youth population in poor countries is expected to reach over 60 per cent by 2050. As the Stockholm+50 Youth Task Force has made so very clear, a sick environment cannot deliver for young people.

We came to Stockholm 50 years after the UN Conference on the Environment knowing that something must change. Knowing that if we do not change, the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste will only accelerate. Knowing that if we do not change, this triple crisis will make our world even less fair, less equitable and less prosperous. Leaders here have laid out what it will take.

Now we must take forward this energy, this commitment to action to shape our world. In 1972, the conference spurred the creation of UNEP and environmental multilateralism in the intervening years. The question for today, in the wake of the 2022 conference, is what will we do now?