Tell us about the Stockholm+50 scientific report and its key themes.A
Nina: The Stockholm Declaration was agreed nearly 50 years ago at the Conference on the Human Environment. The Declaration contains a set of “common principles to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment” and marks a new era of global cooperation on the environment and sustainable development.
This scientific report intends to reflect on the progress we have made since 1972, while importantly highlighting how we have not delivered on the original Stockholm Declaration’s pledges and what can be done to remedy this.
The scientific report will seek to provide a scientific basis for the Stockholm+50 meeting, scheduled for June next year in Stockholm. The modalities, agenda and themes of the UN meeting “Stockholm+50: a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity” are currently being negotiated by UN member states.
Åsa: We will follow the discussion on themes for the meeting and seek to adapt the report’s focus, but also review the latest science on priority challenges to be addressed. From our point of view, we think this is a good opportunity to prepare an action-oriented scientific synthesis on themes such as sustainable post-Covid recovery, sustainable consumption and production and our relationship with nature. These are themes that have resonated in conversations with other scientists and policy experts given their urgency. They are also themes that would benefit from more attention in the landscape of global sustainability governance. Above all, however, we need to gather scientific evidence and ideas on the meta-challenge: implementing commitments in an equitable way! The equity dimension of this will be very important.
“The scientific report will seek to provide a scientific basis for the Stockholm+50 meeting, scheduled for June next year in Stockholm. The modalities, agenda and themes of the UN meeting “Stockholm+50: a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity” are currently being negotiated by UN member states.”
— Nina Weitz, Research Fellow at SEI and project leader for the Stockholm+50 scientific report.
Why is SEI doing this work?A
Nina: SEI proposed to lead this report to the Swedish Ministry of Environment as part of the preparations for the meeting, and we were pleased that they are providing financial support. We are excited and honoured to take on the work of writing this as an independent report and engaging with partners as we do so.
Åsa: We want to contribute to the preparations given:
- our long history of cutting-edge research on the environment and sustainable development
- our experience working with and in lower income countries and
- our rich network of global partners.
Our institute is named after the original Stockholm Conference and our work is very much in the spirit of the Stockholm Declaration, considering the environment and development jointly.
What new thinking will the report contribute?A
Åsa: We want to build on a key conclusion of almost all the recent major scientific assessments, including the recent synthesis report by UNEP: that consumption and production patterns globally are unsustainable. Science and policy have addressed the symptoms, but it is increasingly urgent to address the root causes of unsustainable development. Furthermore, there is ample evidence of the inequality of consumption and production patterns, so equity must be a consideration within any solution.
I think this report is all about seeing the bigger picture, engaging in long-term thinking and developing solutions. Recently, there has been significant progress made globally on setting net-zero targets and triggering decarbonization. For example, the IEA recently clearly stated that we should not expand fossil fuel production. What needs to be emphasized now is that global sustainability is not just about climate emissions; it’s about biodiversity, it’s about the use of natural resources, water and the links between all of them. So we need to look beyond the climate transition alone. We want to take a broad approach to prosperity and look at impacts of sustainability transition on things like well-being and health, jobs and livelihoods, and trade and innovation.
Nina: A priority for us with this report is to understand the knowledge gaps relating to how these transitions can help support more sustainable development in low-income settings and how they can promote equity.
As part of the report writing process, we will incorporate perspectives that are often not included. This includes the views of youth. Indeed, the inclusion of youth perspectives will be essential to Stockholm+50 as future generations will inherit the outcomes of today’s decisions. We are seeking to involve youth representatives at early stages in defining the report’s focus. At a later stage, they will be consulted on the proposed conclusions and recommendations, and their potential impact.
Who is the target audience of the report?A
Nina: The report is primarily for policymakers and those participating in the UN international meeting. But I think a crucial aspect of the report is its aforementioned focus on youth and we are currently in an exciting phase of exploring the best way to ensure it becomes accessible for youth. We might have a separate report written alongside the main one or we could create an interactive online platform. It is a great opportunity to think creatively about science communication.
What impact do you want to achieve with this report?A
Åsa: Based on guidance from our advisory panel and engagement with partners, we hope the report will provide scientifically robust, compelling and actionable evidence that can help to:
- achieve accelerated implementation of commitments already made,
- ensure a greener and more inclusive post-Covid recovery.
- pursue more sustainable global consumption and production patterns, and
- redefine our relationship with nature.
We’ve set ambitious goals, but we’re realistic about what a single report can accomplish. Nevertheless, when looking at SEI’s history, it’s clear that SEI has achieved greatest impact through utilizing multidisciplinary approaches to research and bringing diverse perspectives into the fold.
There are reasons to be optimistic that the change we want to inspire with this report can happen.
There is a growing global consensus that we need to radically rethink our relationship with nature evidenced by the UN Secretary-General’s recent comments that humanity is “waging a war against nature” and that “making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century”.
It is certainly true that a dramatic shift is needed. But it needs to be done with the understanding that all three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – are inextricably linked. The Covid-19 pandemic is a harrowing reminder of how deeply connected these strands are.
To make the peace with nature that Guterres alluded to with his comments and ensure that the world recovers from the pandemic in an effective manner, we need to approach sustainability not only as an environmental challenge but also a socio-economic issue. As SEI has previously argued, “The recovery needs to be socially just and make our societies far more resilient to future crises”.
How is the project progressing?A
Nina: At present, we are harnessing expertise from our SEI centres around the world and looking at ways to build collaborations outside of SEI. We are forming an expert advisory panel with a deep and diverse knowledge of the report themes. The report authors will be supported by this advisory panel and there will be several meetings where the advisory panel will provide input.
Over the next year, we will be publishing content that will update readers on the report’s progress. So, watch this space.
“...we need to look beyond the climate transition alone. We want to take a broad approach to prosperity and look at impacts of sustainability transition on things like well-being and health, jobs and livelihoods, and trade and innovation.”
— Åsa Persson, Research Director and Deputy Director