28 Mar 2022 | | Speech

Stockholm+50: Reflecting on global environmentalism

Speech delivered by: Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director and Stockholm+50 Secretary-General

Event: Stockholm+50 Preparatory Meeting

Location: United Nations, New York

Let me begin by offering my thanks to Kenya and Sweden, who will be co-hosting the Stockholm+50 conference in June. My thanks also to the co-chairs: Canada, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Indonesia and Finland for their engagement and leadership.

As I said during the UNEP@50 celebrations that followed a successful and inspirational fifth United Nations Environment Assembly held in the UN’s only headquarters in the Global South - Nairobi last month, the environmental movement has travelled far since its birth at the 1972 Stockholm conference.

Through the Rio conferences in 1992 and 2012, we brought the environment closer to the development and social agendas. 2015 saw the integration of the three pillars into the 2030 agenda. And yet we are not quite there. The importance of a healthy environment to sustain current and future development opportunities and human well-being is not fully recognized or acted upon. We need to urgently act to ensure that this interconnection is mainstreamed in our policies and actions

So, yes, the Stockholm+50 conference on June 2-3 will be a moment to reflect anew on this journey. A journey in which we are beginning to understand that we must transform our societies and economies to protect the Earth so that it may sustain us. But more importantly, the conference will be a moment to look forward and find new ways to deliver on this transformation.

Friends, Stockholm+50 is a moment to reflect on and strengthen global unity on issues that address our common future.

We are, today, in some ways, not so different from 1972. We are sending messages on the links between development, poverty, human well-being and care of the planet. But there is one major difference: we know far more now than we did then.

Science has unfolded the scale of the triple planetary crisis, the crisis of climate change; the crisis of nature and biodiversity loss; and the crisis of pollution and waste. And the science has outlined how it is hitting vulnerable communities the hardest. The IPCC tells us that global warming has caused climate injustice and dangerous disruption to the natural world. IPBES tells us that nature and biodiversity loss are undermining the SDGs. And scientists and researchers are telling us that pollution and waste is killing tens of millions of people each year.

But science and the environmental movement have also delivered an understanding of the solutions. They have sparked a will to act, which has swept the world. We have a human right to a healthy and clean environment. Youth are demanding change. Governments, cities and regions are acting. Businesses are acting. Investors are acting. Even so, we are not doing enough to address the triple crisis and deliver planetary stability. Stockholm+50 can be the time we vow to do not just enough, but more than enough.

In an already unequal world, Stockholm+50 is chance to reshape national and global interactions. A chance to deliver equity. A chance to amplify a global movement for a more caring world, one that takes on the concerns of youth and vulnerable people. A world that creates relationships of trust. A world that turns commitment into action.

Friends, the two days of Stockholm+50 will be organized around plenary segments, three leadership dialogues and side-events – under the focus of a healthy planet for prosperity for all.

We are looking for clear and concrete outcomes: recommendations and promises for action at all levels. In particular, the three leadership dialogues should produce a platform for progress. The first dialogue will focus on the urgent need for actions to achieve a healthy planet and prosperity of all. The second on a sustainable and inclusive recovery from the pandemic. The third on accelerating the implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development in the context of the decade of action.

Stockholm+50 essentially provides us with four overarching opportunities. We can rebuild relationships of trust for strengthened cooperation and solidarity. We can accelerate system-wide actions to recover and build forward from the pandemic. We can build bridges across all the global agendas that affect our environment, economies and societies. We can rethink measures of progress and wellbeing to provide a new compass of collective welfare.

These are the overarching concepts and areas, but what, concretely, do we need to see emerge from Stockholm+50?

Well, we are looking for new ways to address unsustainable consumption and production, which lies at the heart of the triple planetary crisis.

We are looking for innovative financing approaches. Yes, we need to align COVID-19 recovery with global environmental goals, but we also need to consider progressive approaches to debt restructuring or cancellation – such as debt for nature swaps.

We are looking for action that will transform harmful subsidies, those backing fossil fuels for example, into pro-poor environmental subsidies.

We are looking for real recognition and commitment to the new right to a safe and healthy environment.

We are looking for urgent actions for a healthy planet – and on this, we can draw inspiration from UNEA 5.2, which put plastics pollution at the top of the global agenda by agreeing to negotiate a global deal to end this persistent and pervasive problem.

We are looking for buy in to the One Health Approach, which treats human, animal and planetary health as one and the same.

Above all, Stockholm+50 must embody the inclusive, peaceful world we want to build through reinvigorated multilateralism.

Right now, we are all concerned about conflict. Not just what is unfolding in Europe, but conflicts, big and small, across the globe. People are suffering and dying. And the environment is suffering, which will have consequences long after a conflict has ended.

Stockholm+50 can be a moment for peace: it should demonstrate that multilateralism brings us together and can end conflicts that have set the world back for far too long. It must set the tone for equality, equity and respect in every area.

I am talking about intergenerational equity and responsibility, so that our youth have a real say in their own future.

I am talking about the empowerment of women at all levels in all sectors of society. Not just because it is fair, but because feminist leadership at its best is nurturing and embraces peace.

I am talking about respecting, listening to and empowering indigenous peoples – who, as custodians of nature, do a far better job than most of us.

Every voice must be heard at Stockholm+50. I invite all to attend, engage and shape our common future.

To meet this commitment, I have established two sources of financial support last week – one to support the participation of delegates from developing countries, and another source of support for participants from different major groups and stakeholders. 

I would like to reiterate my call for your generous contribution, to bring these voices to Stockholm. 

Friends, we have inherited an Earth with problems, this is true. But it is also an Earth rich with opportunities.

It would be so easy to fall into anxiety and despair when we look at the way the world has turned. But we must remember that it is often darkest before the dawn.

Knowledge and technology have opened so many possibilities to so many. Science has handed us the solutions to the triple planetary crisis on a plate. Give nature a chance, and it will recover and then be our biggest ally.

So, a new dawn is just below the horizon. But we must turn the world towards it, not away from it. Stockholm+50 will be a moment to move together, in solidarity and collective action, to deliver on this brighter future.

Thank you.