Stockholm+50 Conference: Legacy of 1972 and challenges ahead | News | SDG Knowledge Center


As the global community prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm+50), which laid the foundations for modern environmental diplomacy, a triple planetary crisis of climate change, loss of nature and biodiversity and pollution put multilateralism to the test. A ‘Still Only One Earth’ policy brief from IISD argues that while intergovernmental cooperation is essential, governments and all stakeholders must seize the opportunity to avoid ‘catastrophic’ damage to the environment.

Released on the eve of the Stockholm+50 meeting, taking place in Stockholm, Sweden, June 2-3, 2022, the brief titled “The legacy of the Stockholm Conference‘, examines the legacy of the 1972 summit and outlines the challenges ahead. This is the final memoir in the ‘Always one Earth‘ published by IISD in the run-up to Stockholm+50. The “Still Only One Earth” briefing notes assess the successes and shortcomings of five decades of global environmental policy.

Author Pamela Chasek highlights intergovernmental cooperation and the recognition that global challenges are interconnected as the most important legacies of the Stockholm Conference. The past 50 years, she says, “have confirmed the importance of intergovernmental collaboration to address deeply interwoven global challenges,” as demonstrated by the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development reflected in the SDGs.

Chasek acknowledges Stockholm’s catalytic role in ushering in a “new era of multilateral environmental cooperation and treaty-making”. It outlines milestones in international environmental governance, including the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) of the 1970s and 1980s, the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and the three Rio which stem from it, as well as more recent treaties, such as the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement of 1995, the Rotterdam Convention of 1998 on the applicable Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure to certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade, the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the 2001 International Treaty on Plant Genetics (ITPGR) for food and agriculture, and the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury. She further argues that it was the Stockholm Conference that triggered the process that led to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 SDGs in 2015.

Among other legacies, the memoir attributes to the Stockholm Conference:

  • Recognition of the “need for a sound scientific basis for global environmental policy-making”, reflected in the mandate of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to monitor, track and record environmental data, which has led to the creation of two major science-policy bodies – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES);
  • The establishment of key principles of international environmental law: the precautionary principle; the principle of additionality; and the polluter pays principle;
  • Early recognition of the importance of stakeholder engagement; and
  • The “permanent search for solutions to reconcile economic development and environmental management”.

Among the key challenges facing the world today, Chasek identifies the reversal of progress in eradicating poverty – a prerequisite for sustainable development – ​​due to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19, she argues, “has also amplified inequalities in health systems and demonstrated that existing environmental policies do not effectively support global health and sustainable development goals.” Providing water and sanitation for all also remains one of the greatest global challenges. New issues, such as plastic pollution, illegal wildlife trade and new forms of biotechnology pose additional challenges to multilateralism.

The brief notes that there is “[g]push for new rules and agreements that meaningfully take into account sustainable development and trade” by eliminating harmful subsidies for energy, agriculture and fisheries, among other actions.

The brief concludes by recommending that everyone “work together to find ways to transform our societies and economies” to “live up to the promise of Stockholm”.

Organized by the Government of Sweden, with the support of the Government of Kenya, Stockholm+50 will meet under the theme “A Healthy Planet for Prosperity for All – Our Responsibility, Our Opportunity”. Both a commemoration and a call to action, it aims to accelerate the implementation of the United Nations Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs, including the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and to encourage the adoption of green post-COVID-19 recovery plans. [Publication: The Legacies of the Stockholm Conference] [Still Only One Earth Policy Brief Series]


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