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ENV/DEV/2042

Warning Humanity Still Doing More Harm than Good to Nature, Speakers Urge Corrective Action, at Preparatory Meeting for Stockholm International Environmental Conference

Humanity continues to do more harm than good to nature, with the planet facing multiple existential threats requiring urgent corrective action, speakers and panellists today told the preparatory meeting for “Stockholm+50:  a healthy planet for the prosperity of all — our responsibility, our opportunity”, the international environmental conference scheduled for 2 and 3 June 2022 in Stockholm, Sweden.

In a series of three interactive discussions held on environmental themes, panellists and speakers stressed the urgency of addressing the triple emergency threatening the planet — climate change, biodiversity loss and the threats posed by pollution and waste — and the crucial need to emphasize multilateralism and a science-based approach, as well as tackling systemic financing inequities for an equitable and sustainable pandemic recovery.

Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the environmental movement has travelled far since its birth at the 1972 Stockholm Conference.  “And yet we are not quite there,” she said, stressing that the importance of a healthy environment to sustain current and future development opportunities and human well-being is not fully recognized.  “We need to urgently act to ensure that this interconnection is mainstreamed in our policies and actions,” she said.  As science has evolved, it has revealed the scale of the triple planetary crisis now being faced, and together with the environmental movement, has “sparked a will to act, which has swept the world,” she said.

She noted Stockholm+50 offers a chance to reshape national and global interactions and to provide equity, and the three leadership dialogues should produce a platform for progress — including innovative financing and progressive approaches to debt restructuring or cancellation, such as “debt for nature swaps”.  “We have inherited an Earth with problems, this is true,” she said.  “But it is also an Earth rich with opportunities.”  Urging participants to remember that it is often darkest before the dawn, she added:  “Stockholm+50 will be a moment to move together, in solidarity and collective action, to deliver on this brighter future.”

Annika Strandhäll, Minister for Climate and the Environment of Sweden and co-host of the preparatory meeting and the conference, stressed it is still possible to create a better future if the international community acts together.  Fifty years after the first environmental Conference in Stockholm in 1972, “we must put science at the centre of our actions”, she said, in solidarity with those who have often contributed the least to climate and environmental problems but are hit hardest by its effects.  Stockholm+50 will provide the opportunity to identify initiatives towards investing in the planet and prosperity shared by all and forward-looking systemic actions.  She encouraged all parties to be focused and bold in their contributions, as the future is common and must be shared and shaped together.

Keriako Tobiko, Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of Kenya and co-host of the preparatory meeting and the conference, stressed the transboundary nature and massive scope of the triple environmental crisis, meaning it can only be addressed multilaterally.  He urged today’s participants to build on previous United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) work.  “We should seize this opportunity […] with concrete actions, and go beyond words and pledges.”  A special focus is needed on financing, inclusivity and the science-policy-society interface, emphasizing the centrality of youth.  “We have lived our time,” he said of older generations, and “regrettably, we have messed up”.  While it is not too late to live in harmony with nature, that will require all parts of society to play their role and ensure that no one is left behind.

Echoing those sentiments, Osama Mahmoud Abdel Khalek Mahmoud (Egypt), Vice-President of the General Assembly, speaking on behalf of Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), said the objective of today’s meeting was to lay the groundwork for Stockholm+50, expanding voices on climate issues.  While the Stockholm Declaration of 1972 has led the way for global multilateralism, 50 years on, “we continue to do more harm than good to nature” he said.  Humanity’s actions have diverted and stalled progress in what is meant to be a Decade of Action, and responding to the needs of the planet requires a paradigm shift, considering the impact of the human footprint on the environment.  “We must act together and we must act fast,” he stated.  Humanity has the knowledge and capacity to enact change and must merely summon the political will.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, recalled in a video message that in 1972, “we united under the slogan ‘Only One Earth’, made bold proclamations and recommendations, and began a new era of multilateralism on environmental issues”, adding that the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment catalysed the concept of sustainable development — now the cornerstone of multilateral discussion.  Five decades later, “we stand at the crossroads for a new collective action,” she said.  “We have the option of doing things as it was before or transitioning our thinking and actions”, she stressed.

In the morning, the preparatory meeting held its first of three interactive discussions focusing on the background documents for the leadership dialogues to be held at the Stockholm+50 meeting.  Participants discussed preparations for leadership dialogue 1, on the theme “Reflecting on the urgent need for actions to achieve a healthy planet and prosperity of all.  Stéphane Dion, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Canada to the European Union and Europe and Ambassador to Germany — one of the session’s Co-Chairs — said reversing the current trend, which often relies on “self-destructive development”, requires creation of more sustainable paths for future generations.  Echoing that sentiment, Cristian Espinosa, Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations, also Co-Chair, added that implementation of existing commitments is also needed.

When the floor opened for speakers, the representatives of Member States, United Nations agencies and international organizations echoed and amplified those concerns.  The representative of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said a degraded planet poses severe threats to humanity’s future well-being, citing the “rapidly closing window” to reverse that current trend.  The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, concurred, warning that the world remains far off-track in keeping global temperature warming to the goal of 1.5°C — a particularly dire situation for the world’s small island developing States.  “We do not need rhetoric, we need action,” he declared.

The meeting held two subsequent interactive discussions:  on leadership dialogue 2 on the theme “Achieving a sustainable and inclusive recovery from the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic”, with presentations by Co-Chairs Stephan Contius, Commissioner for the 2030 Agenda, Head of Division for the United Nations, Developing Countries and Emerging Economies of the Federal Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection of Germany, and Ibnu Wahyutomo, Acting Director-General for Multilateral Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia.

In the afternoon, the meeting held the third interactive discussion on leadership dialogue 3 on the theme “Accelerating the implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.  The discussion featured statements by Co-Chairs Annika Lindblom, Director for International and European Union Affairs of the Ministry of the Environment of Finland, and Yasmine Fouad, Director of Climate and Environment Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt.

Opening Remarks

ANNIKA STRANDHÄLL, Minister for Climate and the Environment of Sweden, co-host of the preparatory meeting and the Stockholm+50 conference, said the holding of today’s meeting is a message to protect the planet and ensure its well-being for this and future generations.  The meeting will have a decisive impact, as it is still possible to create a better future if the international community acts together.  Fifty years after the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, it is once again time to invite the international community to contemplate a better future to advance actions in closing the implementation gap on commitments already made.  “We must put science at the centre of our actions,” she said, which will be in solidarity with those who have often contributed the least to climate and environmental problems but are hit hardest by its effects.

Stockholm+50 will provide the opportunity to identify initiatives, she said, as investing in the planet means investing in people, and prosperity must be shared by all.  She expected the upcoming international meeting to be an accelerator of commitments and actions in advance of future seminars this year and the Summit of the Future in 2023, voicing hope for collective focus on forward-looking systemic actions, bridging agendas and silos.  Closing the implementation gap will require collaboration and scaled-up implementation, with success demanding that the community of voices be expanded, including youth in a commitment to future generations.  She encouraged all parties to be focused and bold in their contributions, as the future is common and must be shared and shaped together.

KERIAKO TOBIKO, Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry for Environment and Forestry of Kenya, the other co-host of preparatory meeting and the upcoming Stockholm+50 conference, said the transboundary nature and massive scope of the current triple environmental crisis — namely, climate change, biodiversity loss and the threats posed by pollution and waste — means it can only be addressed multilaterally.  Outlining some of the successful outcomes of the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly meeting and the UNEP@50 meeting to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), both held recently in Nairobi, he urged today’s participants to build on them and take those discussions forward into the Stockholm meeting.  “We should seize this opportunity […] with concrete actions and go beyond words and pledges,” he said, calling above all for measurable impacts on the ground.

Against that backdrop, he said, Stockholm+50 provides a chance for accelerated action on each of the three elements of the triple planetary crisis.  A special focus is needed on financing, inclusivity and the science-policy-society interface.  He also emphasized the important role of youth, who bear the least responsibility for the planet’s current challenges but will suffer the brunt of their impacts as they inherit the world in the coming decades.  “We have lived our time”, he said of older generations, adding that “regrettably, we have messed up”.  While it is not too late to live in harmony with nature, that will require all parts of society to play their role and ensure that no one is left behind.  Highlighting UNEP’s mandated role to deliver on those commitments, he also reaffirmed Kenya’s commitment to making Stockholm+50 a success and to ensuring that participants propose meaningful, actionable solutions.

Osama Mahmoud Abdel Khalek Mahmoud (Egypt), Vice-President of the General Assembly, speaking on behalf of Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), said the preparatory meeting takes place at the apex of many events on the environment scheduled for 2022, providing a unique opportunity to take stock of initiatives and gaps.  He noted the objective of today’s meeting is to lay the groundwork for Stockholm+50, with dialogues reflecting on the interconnectedness of humanity and expanding voices on climate issues, calling for discussions to be guided by a profound conviction and resolve.  The Stockholm Declaration of 1972 has led the way for global multilateralism — a notion that was unknown and even opposed at the time — yet 50 years on, “we continue to do more harm than good to nature” he said.

Humanity’s actions have diverted and stalled progress in what is meant to be a Decade of Action, he said, stressing that responding to the needs of the planet requires a paradigm shift considering the impact of human footprint on the environment.  “We must act together and we must act fast,” he stated.  Humanity has the knowledge and capacity to enact change and must merely summon the political will.  Protecting the environment means “protecting our own well-being”, as the international community must never forget how interconnected humanity is with nature.  He voiced hope that the preparatory committee will help shape the Stockholm+50 conference towards ensuring a greener and bluer planet for all.

AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said in a video message that 50 years ago, in 1972, the world’s countries recognized for the first time that environment, poverty and development were interconnected.  “We united under the slogan ‘Only One Earth’, made bold proclamations and recommendations, and began a new era of era of multilateralism on environmental issues,” she recalled, adding that the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment catalysed the concept of sustainable development, which has become the cornerstone of our multilateral discussions today.  Five decades later, today’s meeting offers a chance to take stock of humankind’s achievements as well as the let-downs in fulfilling its responsibilities to the planet.  “Today, we stand at the crossroads for a new collective action,” she said.  As communities slowly emerge from COVID-19 lockdowns and begin their recovery journeys, “we have the option of doing things as it was before or transitioning our thinking and actions”, she said, calling for fresh thinking and a collective shift towards a greater responsibility.

INGER ANDERSEN, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the environmental movement has travelled far since its birth at the 1972 Stockholm Conference, its evolution at the Rio de Janeiro conferences in 1992 and 2012 and the integration of other development pillars in the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.  “And yet we are not quite there,” she said, stressing that 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,” she said.

Against that backdrop, she said the upcoming Stockholm+50 conference on 2‑3 June will be a moment to reflect anew on the journey of sustainable development and find new ways to deliver on its transformation.  Today, science has evolved and it helped to reveal the scale of the triple planetary crisis now being faced.  It reveals how it is hitting vulnerable communities the hardest.  But science and the environmental movement have also delivered an understanding of the solutions needed to resolve the crisis.  “They have sparked a will to act, which has swept the world,” she said, pointing to the new understanding that people have a human right to a healthy and clean environment.  Youth are demanding change, and many Governments, cities, regions, businesses and investors are acting in response.

Emphasizing that still more action is needed, she said Stockholm+50 offers a chance to reshape national and global interactions and to provide equity.  It will seek clear and concrete outcomes in the form of recommendations and promises for action at all levels.  In particular, the meeting’s three leadership dialogues should produce a platform for progress.  Outcomes should include new ways to address unsustainable consumption and production, which lies at the heart of the triple planetary crisis.  They should include innovative financing approaches that align the COVID-19 recovery with global environmental goals, while considering progressive approaches to debt restructuring or cancellation, such as “debt for nature swaps”.  They should also include actions that will transform harmful subsidies — those backing fossil fuels, for example — into pro-poor environmental subsidies.

She went on to note that, as the world is collectively concerned about the rise of conflicts, multilateralism in both the peace and security and environmental arenas can bring people together and set the tone for equality, equity and respect.  It can also help address the environmental consequences of conflict, which linger on long after a war has ended.  “We have inherited an Earth with problems, this is true,” she said.  “But it is also an Earth rich with opportunities.”  In that context, she urged participants not to despair in anxiety, but to remember that it is often darkest before the dawn.  “Stockholm+50 will be a moment to move together, in solidarity and collective action, to deliver on this brighter future,” she said.

RUTH DE MIRANDA, Director of the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council Affairs Division, Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, explained technical preparations for the Stockholm+50 meeting, including interpretation services, official languages and the modalities of credentials applications, as well as registration.

Interactive Discussion on Leadership Dialogue 1

The meeting then held its first of three interactive discussions focusing on the background documents for the leadership dialogues to be held at the Stockholm+50 meeting.  Participants discussed preparations for leadership dialogue 1, on the theme “Reflecting on the urgent need for actions to achieve a healthy planet and prosperity of all”.  Making presentations were the session’s Co-Chairs, Stéphane Dion, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Canada to the European Union and Europe and Ambassador to Germany, as well as Cristian Espinosa, Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations.

Mr. DION said the objective of leadership dialogue 1 is an ambitious one.  “In fact, it is really about reversing the current trend, which too often relies on self-destructive development,” he said, underlining the need for more sustainable paths for future generations.  It will also address the theme of interconnection, he said, noting that the rapid decline of biodiversity and the rising crisis of climate change — which together are threatening the economy, food security, health and quality of life — are closely linked.  Another theme is the urgency of collective action, for example utilizing carbon pricing, conserving carbon-rich natural areas and restoring wetlands and mangroves.  Against that backdrop, the background document for leadership dialogue 1 lays out a variety of issues for participants to consider with the aim of transforming humanity’s relationship with nature; producing and consuming sustainably and fighting pollution; and ensuring justice, inclusion and intergenerational equity. 

Mr. ESPINOSA, noting that Ecuador is a unique and mega-diverse country with a strong legal framework to support its environment, said it is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean which will serve as a Co-Chair of one of the upcoming leadership dialogues.  He welcomed participants’ suggestions and proposals, calling for an open, frank and pragmatic assessment of how the global community has moved forward since the first Stockholm meeting in 1972.  “We recognize the urgency borne out by science of the situation facing our planet,” as well as the needs of those most affected, he said.  What is really needed is the implementation of existing commitments and for Governments and other stakeholders to take new steps in a positive direction, he said, also spotlighting the need for a balance between economic growth, social well-being and environmental conservation.  He also urged participants to consider such issues as sustainable consumption and production, the fight against pollution, the need for equality and sustainable food systems and the need to ensure safe and fair working conditions.

Speakers then took the floor during an interactive session, with many spotlighting the importance of respecting the critical principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” — namely, a distinction between the burden placed on developed and developing countries to finance climate chance adaptation and mitigation — as well as the need for accelerated technology transfer and more accessible climate financing.  Meanwhile, representatives from non-governmental organizations and various United Nations agencies spotlighted particular elements of the threat facing the planet — including its links to humanitarian crises and transnational drug and crime syndicates — while calling for those connections to be reflected in leadership dialogue 1 and the broader Stockholm+50 outcome document.

The representative of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said a degraded planet poses severe threats to humanity’s future well-being.  Citing the “rapidly closing window” to reverse that current trend, he underlined the centrality of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement on climate change and related multilateral agreements, which are based on the principle of the common but differentiated responsibility of States.  The agreement reached between States at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, known as COP26, “must be the baseline for climate action”, he added, stressing that basic commitments for climate finance from developed countries have not yet been met.  More parity is needed to ensure a balance between climate mitigation and adaptation, and funding in those crucial areas must not become an additional financial burden or a source of more debt for developing countries.  He also called for the simplification of access to existing climate finance mechanisms, such as the Green Climate Fund.

The representative of the European Union said the upcoming Stockholm+50 meeting should seek to accelerate actions that will address the triple planetary crisis and place people at the centre of an inclusive and just transition to sustainable consumption and production.  Its three leadership dialogues will provide crucial inputs for other future meetings and should cover the important role of nature-based solutions in addressing social and environmental challenges.  Dialogue 1 should address critical knowledge-sharing — including with youth — as well as the protection, restoration and sustainable use of natural capital; the need for intergenerational equity; the decarbonization of economies; and fiscal and subsidy reforms.  The meeting should seek voluntary commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, he said, also spotlighting the need for discussions on resource efficiency, circular economy and sustainable consumption and production models.

The representative of China, associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the current international tensions and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continue to cast a shadow over global sustainable development discussions.  Against that backdrop, the international community should be guided by the idea of “ecological civilization” and speed up the global green transformation, build a low-carbon circular economy and promote social justice, all while eliminating poverty and creating jobs.  He also advocated for targeted support to developing countries and striking a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.

The representative of Denmark, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said Stockholm+50 can be instrumental in building the necessary momentum in the leadup to the next United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, COP27, in Egypt later in 2022.  It can also help countries transition to a more just and sustainable economy, she said, pointing out that 2021 saw a major stride with the resolution passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council recognizing the human right to a healthy environment.  Meanwhile, COVID-19 has demonstrated the close link between planetary and human health, and multilateralism has triumphed in numerous ways at such recent meetings as the United Nations Environment Assembly.  However, agreements reached will only matter if they are implemented, she said, calling for political models and economic frameworks that truly value nature.

The representative of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries and associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, echoed the importance of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.  Noting that access to finance, technologies and technical know-how are pivotal to promote sustainable development, she called for accelerated financial and technology transfers to least developed countries, voicing deep concern that progress remains too slow in addressing the challenges of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations.  Many least developed countries require support just to attend Stockholm+50, she said, requesting generous support in that regard and underlining the centrality of their participation in the meeting’s discussions.

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States and associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, warned that the world remains far off-track in keeping global temperature warming to the goal of 1.5°C.  That is a particularly dire situation for the world’s small island developing States, he said, declaring:  “We do not need rhetoric, we need action.”  Welcoming progress in such areas as electric vehicles and other green technologies, he voiced regret that that is often not the case in small island developing States, as those countries’ small size and limited access to financing make capital-intensive investments extremely difficult.  Calling upon partners to support such investments — which are relatively inexpensive — he added:  “We must show some practical, purposeful gains on the ground.”

The representative of Lesotho, speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, underscored the complementarity between Stockholm+50 and the just concluded United Nations Environment Assembly as well as the UNEP@50 meeting.  Calling for a holistic approach to environmental issues — which should be interlinked with broader conversations on development — he echoed other speakers in emphasizing the importance of providing developing countries with the means of implementation, especially financing, technology transfer and capacity-building.

The representative of India agreed that concrete actions are needed now, guided by existing multilateral agreements that give due regard to countries’ national circumstances, priorities and development levels.  Echoing support for the essential principle of common but differentiated responsibility, she added that integrating implementation with resource mobilization is also critical.  She recalled that India recently proposed a campaign, known as “LIFE”, which focuses on deliberate, mindful consumption patterns.  Meanwhile, its national policies are guided by environmental concerns as well as a quest for economic growth that respects the planets’ finite natural resources.

A representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said her organization — the largest humanitarian network in the world — is already witnessing first-hand how climate change and ecosystem degradation is negatively impacting human beings and their livelihoods.  For example, in the Horn of Africa, drought and land degradation is already a main driver of conflict and displacement.  Governments and stakeholders must invest in holistic and integrated approaches to addressing those crises, while scaling up support to help reduce risks, enhance adaptation, and promote anticipatory action and nature-based solutions.  She called for the Stockholm+50 outcomes to recognize that climate change is already a humanitarian issue and to note the importance of local action as well as the importance of the engagement of the humanitarian sector.

A representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the illegal exploitation of natural resources, as well as crime and corruption, pose grave threats to biodiversity, human health and socioeconomic development around the globe.  Leadership dialogue 1 offers a chance to explore ways to address the crimes that threaten the planet, including by helping States implement effective legal frameworks, fostering effective cooperation and preventive action and increasing accountability for actors that cause environmental harm, she said.

Also participating were the representatives of Switzerland, United States, Morocco, Peru, United Arab Emirates, Netherlands and Belize, as well as speakers on behalf of the organizations World Scouting, Norwegian Forum for Development and Environment, Hack for Earth Foundation, and Population, Health and Environment Consortium Ethiopia.

Interactive Discussion on Leadership Dialogue 2

The preparatory meeting then held its second interactive discussion on the background document to leadership dialogue 2 on the theme “Achieving a sustainable and inclusive recovery from the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic”, with presentations by the session’s Co-Chairs, Stephan Contius, Commissioner for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Head of Division for the United Nations, Developing Countries and Emerging Economies of the Federal Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection of Germany, and Ibnu Wahyutomo, Acting Director-General for Multilateral Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia.

Mr. CONTIUS cited past meetings in which important resolutions were agreed upon, stressing that multilateralism can occur even in times of war — but the pandemic has exacerbated the slow and patchy process affecting the Sustainable Development Goals.  He noted that after a decline in carbon dioxide emissions, they are rebounding, with the pandemic making evidently clear that global crises cannot be addressed at the level of individual States.  A new relationship with nature and efficient use of resources will be key.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report calls for changes facilitating climate-resilient pathways in conjunction with poverty eradication to reduce inequalities, in particular by empowering women and girls.  While the Stockholm+50 meeting will address these issues which still do not have an international platform, he stressed that looking at carbon emissions alone will not be sufficient.  Resource extraction still drives 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and half of greenhouse gas emissions.

Focusing on food, energy and manufacturing, he noted the food sector has the largest impact on nature, responsible for 60 per cent of biodiversity loss.  Food production has more than doubled over past 50 years, and it is critical to decouple it from natural impacts.  Compared to energy from coal, electricity from renewable sources can reduce greenhouse gases and harmful pollutants, while in manufacturing, value retention processes and recycling are complementary.  Germany is advocating for the establishment of a “right to repair” of manufacturing products, he said, adding that any action taken must be inclusive of present and future generations of products. 

Mr. WAHYUTOMO cited the importance of harnessing innovation and technology, given the challenges and opportunities presented by the pandemic.  The digital ecosystem was revealed as an important pillar during the crisis and can lead to green growth, but any progress and initiatives will require equal access to the Internet and mitigating the digital divide.  He called for reforming the current intellectual property regime, unlocking new green finance systems and protecting digital data.

The international community must reconsider trade rules and tax reform and materialize sustainable consumption, including a possible global supplemental income.  He called for linking the global North and South, addressing the technological divide and financing gaps, and solving global environmental problems together, with increased access to data and knowledge exchange.  Capital flow to developing countries must be used towards building a sustainable economic model.  He stressed that a strong recovery is inclusive and transformative in nature.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers took the floor to address the role of the conference in resetting the global pandemic recovery and reaching the most vulnerable, including women and youth, and address massive financing gaps that threaten recovery and sustainable development for developing countries.  Representatives from non-governmental organizations also spoke, urging the international community to seize the opportunity to redress global wealth inequities.

The representative of Thailand said the conference presents a key opportunity to put the world back on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  He noted countries should be guided towards pathways to green recovery, citing Thailand’s efforts at workforce rescaling, including fostering women’s involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, harnessing innovation and digital technologies, including through a homegrown approach and leveraging technology transfer to developing countries.

The representative of Saudi Arabia said the last two years have been extraordinary, calling for the international community to accelerate more inclusive and affordable solutions to address the effects of the pandemic.  The most vulnerable should be at the heart of all work, for which international collaboration is key.  He noted that his Government has launched two green sustainability initiatives, advancing innovation and technology-centric initiatives, with the Middle East Green Initiative launching a green cooking programme that may benefit 750 million people worldwide.

The representative of Barbados, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Alliance of Small Island States, said developing countries continue to suffer deepening inequities driven by the pandemic.  Low-lying coastal CARICOM member States and small island developing States “stand on the frontline of the impacts of climate change despite having contributed the least to it”, he said.  After a drop in greenhouse gas emissions due to travel restrictions, they have rebounded.  He called for developed countries to fulfil their commitment to mobilize $100 billion annually to address the needs of developing States through 2025.  The international community must finalize and adopt a multidimensional vulnerability index and increase the sustainability and resilience of national, regional and global supply chains.  This will foster sustainable integration of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States into the global trading system.

The representative of El Salvador said facing down the triple threat of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss will depend on developed countries upholding funding commitments of $100 billion per year and improving access to the Green Climate Fund, as well as technology transfer.  It is also crucial to recognize the importance of improved access to water for health, hygiene and sanitation.

The representative of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa stressed that online data tools should not compromise the safety of human rights defenders and development banks should engage with young people and funding programmes.  Environmental efforts are not effective without generational cooperation, he said.

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of Alliance of Small Island States and aligning himself with the Group of 77, cited the effects of the pandemic and the crises that followed.  All data report small island developing States are affected worst of all and were already facing a crisis unlike any other due to the climate change threat to lives and livelihoods.  Those States have continually sounded the alarm, but still believe the international community can turn the tide.  All small island developing States regardless of graduation status must be guaranteed access to concessional financing and grants.  Debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio must be addressed, he said, also calling for Group of Twenty and International Monetary Fund (IMF) programmes to be tailored towards sustainable recovery.  “Our economies are dependent on a safe and secure environment,” he stressed.

The representative of the Stakeholders Forum emphasized that the pandemic was human-made, representing a broken relationship with nature.  The international community must build new economic systems, getting rid of unsustainable extractive economies and the capitalistic system that only benefits the rich.  It must also stop environmental degradation by making it a crime, with UNEP as the monitoring authority.

The representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the pandemic and global conflicts have burdened financial systems in countries already facing food crises.  The international community must join forces to protect degraded freshwater and marine ecosystems, strengthen institutions and sustainable food and agricultural policies, and build more resilient agri-food systems, ensuring food security for all. 

A representative of the Burundi Association for Integration and Sustainable Development said waste plastics and other organic matters are a critical issue for humanity, including indigenous peoples.  Financial institutions play a key role, he said.  “Indigenous peoples are the first to be affected by the negative impacts of this type of pollution,” he stressed, noting their dire impoverishment.  He called for indigenous peoples to be involved in Stockholm+50 process, integrated into international cooperation, and for compensation as victims of the dramatic situation caused by the others.  

A representative of the Public Services International, cited 30 million workers who have been at the forefront of the pandemic, and addressing the environmental crisis:  nurses, community health workers, social care workers, and energy, water, sanitation, and emergency services workers.  All those players recognize that economic policies adopted globally over the past 40 years have eviscerated the public services needed to live sustainable, healthy, equitable and peaceful lives.  “This meeting could be historic,” she said, representing the moment when Governments turned away from a global system designed to benefit a tiny minority of billionaires and corporations and agreed to adopt recovery plans shifting towards decarbonized economies.  Those plans must include large-scale investments in public health and public social care in every country, development of publicly owned and managed renewable energy systems, and industrial policies that focus on localizing production of critical goods.  She also called for a permanent waiver of trade rules that prevent countries from producing generic vaccines, medicines and other health technologies.  “This may well be the last opportunity the world has to address the unsustainable, unhealthy and unjust system the wealthy have created,” she stated.

Mr. CONTIUS, in his concluding remarks, said the comments had been very helpful and would be taken onboard for the next informal working group meeting, including on eliminating fossil fuels and restoring ecosystems and climate finance, taking into account specific needs and circumstances.  It is critical to ensure resilience of supply chains, address the role of medium and small enterprises, and improve access to water and sanitation.

Mr. WAHYUTOMO said the pandemic has deepened inequality within and between countries, and biodiversity remains under threat.  Addressing the triple planetary crisis must be synergized with pandemic recovery.  He cited recommendations put forward including calls for developed countries to honour funding commitments and the necessity of effective systems for an inclusive recovery.  Pandemic-related stimulus measures must drive recovery and transformation and be environmentally sound.

Also participating were the representatives of India, Bangladesh, Japan, Singapore and the Dominican Republic, as well as the European Union and speakers on behalf of the organizations UNEP Major Group of Children and Youth and the National Council of Swedish Youth Organizations.

Interactive Discussion on Leadership Dialogue 3

The meeting’s third interactive session was on the upcoming leadership dialogue 3, which will focus on the theme “Accelerating the implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.  It featured presentations by the two Co-Chairs, Annika Lindblom, Director for International and European Union Affairs at the Ministry of Environment of Finland, and Yasmine Fouad, Director of Climate and Environment Affairs at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Egypt.

Ms. LINDBLOM said the financial gap in implementing the 2030 Agenda has risen from $2.5 trillion to $4.2 trillion per year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  There is a critical need for debt relief, combating illicit and environmentally harmful financial flows and widening of the donor base for developmental assistance.  Governments must hold to their commitments, but all financing — both public and private — must also mitigate rather than exacerbate environmental problems.  In that regard, she cited efforts at national Government levels as well as financial regulation and the newly recognized human right to a clean and healthy environment, adding that finance ministers are in the best position to bring about the required changes.  However, she warned that overconsumption of resources remains a challenge for the planet and there must be trust between Governments, stakeholders and citizens to make meaningful systemic changes.

Ms. FOUAD said Stockholm+50 is an opportunity to scale up commitments and action for a better future and to acknowledge the interlinkages between climate change, biodiversity and desertification.  Noting that leadership dialogue 3 is about accelerating implementation, she said finance is one of the key elements of implementation.  That means ensuring the fulfilment of already existing pledges while also scaling up resources based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.  Urging participants to be guided by the principles of equity and justice, she said today’s technological advancements provide an excellent tool for societies around the globe to make rapid advancements in the environmental arena.  Against that backdrop, she also asked participants to consider how digital technologies, platforms and tools can help advance more sustainable lifestyles and how digital access can be ensured more equally around the world.

During the ensuing dialogue, representatives of Governments, non-governmental organizations and United Nations entities took the floor to share their views on the proposed concept note for leadership dialogue 3.  Some disagreed with its contents — citing references to non-agreed language or overly aggressive timeframes — while others welcomed its ambitious attempts to address the interlinked crises of poverty, inequality, climate chance and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The representative of the European Union called for innovative finance models and subsidy reforms, which should both be focuses of leadership dialogue 3.  That discussion should also be the occasion to engage the private sector, address natural capital accounting and building synergies, he said, advocating for a focus on areas where existing multilateral commitments do not yet provide for strong governance.  The dialogue is also a good place to discuss the use of sustainable digital solutions, he said.

The representative of Suriname, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, the Alliance of Small Island States and CARICOM, said his is a climate-neutral country.  Its National Adaptation Plan 2019-2029 is closely aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.  However, more support from the international community in the form of financing is needed for its implementation.  Posing a question to the leadership dialogue’s Co-Chairs, he asked how Stockholm+50 will further discussions on ways to address loss and damage due to climate change.

The representative of Brazil, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and noting that the background paper on leadership dialogue 3 mentions the concept “nature-based solutions”, urged caution on the use of that concept.  The related suggestion that new international agreements will be required is false, and attention should not be diverted by creating parallel tracks, he warned, adding that Stockholm+50 should instead be a chance for all countries to renew their commitment to existing commitments in a balanced and integrated manner.   

The representative of Zimbabwe, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, called for scaled-up, coordinated action and political will to urgently address the interlinked crises of poverty, inequality, climate chance and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Noting that all relevant stakeholders should be involved in the design of policies in that regard, he added that climate pledges made should be urgently fulfilled.  

The representative of Spain, associating himself with the European Union, said the leadership dialogue’s proposed concept note diverges in several important ways from the substance of the Paris Agreement and the language agreed at COP26.  For example, the concept note refers to climate finance delivery plans with the aim of delivering at the end of 2023, a timeframe whose achievement remains highly unlikely.  In addition, many of the positive achievements made at COP26 — such as crucial references to special drawing rights — are not properly reflected in the concept note, he said.

The representative of Samoa, associating herself with the Alliance of Small Island States, agreed that the window of opportunity to address the triple planetary crisis is now.  There is a real need for a more inclusive and interconnected global governance approach, including to transform commitments into action.  Noting that small island developing States such as Samoa were hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and have not yet begun to recover, she said that must not be allowed to impact their efforts to tackle climate change, which poses an existential challenge.  The particular vulnerabilities and needs of small island developing States must be taken into account in all discussions at Stockholm+50, she stressed.

The representative of Costa Rica said nature must be seen as an asset, not just a planetary feature.  “We need to promote development that can satisfy a fourth industrial revolution and the huge changes that confront us,” she said, calling for nature-based solutions and more efforts to tackle humanity’s vast inequalities. 

The representative of the Russian Federation said the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated international cooperation in the development sphere, leading to tensions among developed States and divides among countries.  Against that backdrop, more commitment is needed to implement the 2030 Agenda, he said, warning against watering down its contents.  Meanwhile, unilateral coercive measures are unacceptable, as are politically motivated actions that affect the world’s most vulnerable people.  “Humanitarian exemptions do not work,” he stressed, voicing his expectation that the Stockholm+50 outcome will not create more divisions or obstacles for developing countries.  Assistance to developing countries should not be conditional or based on concepts not agreed at the international level, he added.  

A representative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated inequalities and eroded public trust in institutions around the world.  In that context, UNCTAD is working to find ways to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in a post-pandemic environment, including through its BioTrade Programme — a set of guidelines for businesses, Governments and civil society wishing to support the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, as well as the fair and equitable sharing of benefits through trade — which has been adopted by over 100 countries.  Other initiatives include efforts to address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and monitoring the impact of environmental trade restrictions on developing countries’ exports, she said.

A representative of the Women’s Environmental Group said that in 2020 — a year marked by global devastation amid the COVID-19 pandemic — more than 300 environmental and human rights defenders were murdered around the globe for their views and activism.  Asking how it is possible that double standards are still applied 50 years after the first Stockholm conference — for example, allowing pesticides banned in many northern countries to be used widely in the Global South and continuing the use of dangerous fossil fuels — she said Stockholm+50 can be a chance for a new generation of women, as concerned citizens, to make a difference.  

Also participating were the representatives of Argentina, Antigua and Barbuda (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States), Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, South Africa and India, as well as representatives of the Student Platform for Engineering, Education and Development, Global Ecovillage Network, International Organisation of la Francophonie, Igarape Institute, ABB Group, Action for the Development of the Sahel, the Indigenous and No Borders Humanity Organization.

Closing Remarks

ABDULLAH SHAHID (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, said today’s discussions have laid the foundation for a meaningful and productive meeting in June.  Underlining the importance of the original Stockholm Conference in 1972, he said it led to the birth of environmental diplomacy and environmental law, while opening the door to non-governmental organizations that previously did not have access to the United Nations system.  Similarly, the next Stockholm conference offers a chance to make bold changes, foster strong partnerships and take concrete action to address the multiple threats facing humanity and the planet, he said.

Ms. ANDERSEN said today’s discussions made clear that participants want to see commitments translated into concrete, accelerated action, supported by adequate financing.  Describing those contributions as both vital and vibrant, she welcomed the diversity of voices addressing the meeting today, declaring:  “It is time to reflect on the pathway we are on.”  Emphasizing that “we have not done enough and we are not moving fast enough” to advance the environmental pillar of sustainable development, she added:  “Let Stockholm be the chance to ask the tough questions,” as well as the moment to take bold action and make the systemic shifts that are needed.

Mr. TOBIKO agreed that the day’s discussions provided many important insights to guide preparations for the Stockholm+50 conference going forward.  He also responded briefly to logistical and modalities-related questions raised by several participants throughout the day.

Ms. STRANDHÄLL, underlining the crucial importance of the participation of developing countries at the Stockholm+50 meeting, said Sweden has contributed some $300,000 for travel support to persons from developing countries, both from Member States and major groups.  All those countries able to do so should also contribute, she said, emphasizing that Stockholm+50 provides a chance for all the world to come together to fulfil its responsibilities for a healthy planet and the prosperity of all.

For information media. Not an official record.