The day before the official opening of the Stockholm+50 UN international meeting in the beginning of June, Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP and Secretary-General for Stockholm+50, referred to science as a “canary in the coal mine”. She said the time between the canary’s warning and the world taking action is just too slow, speaking to participants at the science conference organized by Stockholm University, the Royal Technological Institute (KTH), Karolinska Institute and SEI.
Many delegates at the Stockholm+50 international meeting, held on 2 and 3 June at Stockholmsmässan Conference Centre, would have agreed. Delegates to the UN gathering repeatedly called for action, implementation and delivery on existing commitments.
That message was a key takeaway in the SEI-CEEW report Stockholm+50: Unlocking a Better Future. Launched ahead of the meeting to provide a scientific basis for the 50-year anniversary of the UN Conference on the Human Environment, the report showed how the track record for delivery on international environment and development commitments has been poor over the past half century. The authors argued that timescales for action must be compressed, to get to a better future faster and that Stockholm+50 provided the watershed moment to speed up change that was envisioned already in 1972.
Without a mandate to negotiate new binding goals, Stockholm+50 presented an opportunity to focus on solutions. Dialogues and official discussions at the event addressed what to do now and how to do it.
The meeting gathered over 4000 people from nearly 150 countries, including several heads of state and more than 60 ministers. Alongside the ministerial speeches presented in plenary sessions, more dynamic conversations were held in the three leadership dialogues and official side events.
Some ideas that featured in these conversations align with the science presented in the SEI-CEEW report, including how our economic systems are the core driver of problems we face today and the need for economic policy that respects planetary boundaries and just transitions. To act more quickly on scientific findings, delegates and participants called for more cooperation. They highlighted the importance of multilateralism and voiced deep concern for its current state, in a time when we need more than ever a multilateral system that is committed to action and that can be used effectively to deliver on existing commitments.
As summarized by SEI Executive Director Måns Nilsson, speaking on behalf of academia and science at the closing plenary, Stockholm+50 could become the watershed moment needed to implement global targets. Past environmental and human development agreements require accelerated actions, science-based decision-making and multi-stakeholder engagement.
Genuine engagement with youth, their visions and desires in shaping the future, was another idea that featured strongly at Stockholm+50. Speakers included the authors of the SEI-CEEW companion youth report Charting a Youth Vision for a Just and Sustainable Future that laid out a youth vision for a more equitable, healthy and environmentally safe future.
Given the legacy of the 1972 meeting, and with strong agreement about the need to take action 50 years later at Stockholm+50, effective accountability is key for moving forward. In Leadership Dialogue 2, SEI Research Director and Deputy Director Åsa Persson encouraged delegates to be more accountable to themselves and to everyone outside of the meeting, by talking about what can and will be done, and committing to action and following up after the meeting.
The Stockholm+50: Unlocking a Better Future report contributed 52 concrete recommendations to further three societal shifts, and is specific on what different actors, including governments, the business community, the knowledge community and others, can do, including how to ensure accountability in this process. Concrete recommendations in the SEI-CEEW report included:
- strengthening a global dialogue on sustainable lifestyles
- a global campaign on nature-based education
- risk-pooling initiatives to increase investment in the climate transition in low-income and emerging economies
- rethinking the paradigm for technology transfer
- introducing a climate accountability summit.
Researchers from SEI also co-developed an action agenda with the World Business Council on Sustainable Development. Three concrete ideas on what can be done provide another example and outcome of Stockholm+50: a global corporate accountability and transparency mechanism, a global circularity protocol and a global sustainability skills for action initiative.
Ten recommendations resulted from Stockholm+50, of which several are detailed in the SEI-CEEW report. These include calls for rebuilding trust for strengthened cooperation and solidarity, reinforcing a fair and effective multilateral system and strengthening national implementation of existing commitments through promoting evidence-based policymaking and enhanced collaboration between academic disciplines and thematic scientific panels.
The side event on the SEI-CEEW report also featured discussions on new mechanisms for more constructive accountability and the need for connecting, for example, new technological developments with formal multilateral processes to build acceptance and trust. It brought concrete suggestions to adapt the meetings before the Conferences of Parties to international treaties (“pre-COPs”) to an accountability platform led by youth, broadened beyond climate to sustainable development targets, and in which countries report on their progress prior to making new pledges. It also encouraged the High Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism to build on the recommendations presented in the report ahead of the 2023 UN Summit for the Future.
At SEI, we want to be accountable in this decade of action and we will be a knowledge partner to accelerating action. We want to be part of that scientific community envisioned in UNEP Executive Director and Secretary-General for Stockholm+50 Inger Andersen’s speech, one that contributes to the needed changes through science that is diverse, open and cross-disciplinary, proactive, accessible and transparent, and works to compress the timescale to policymaking.