Without Action Now, Youth Will Inherit Broken, Unliveable Planet, Speakers Warn, as Stockholm+50 Leadership Dialogue Explores Ways to Save Environment
STOCKHOLM, 2 June — Unless action is taken now, younger generations will inherit a planet that is “broken and unliveable”, civil society speakers from across the globe warned world leaders today, as they engaged in a leadership dialogue alongside the Stockholm+50 international meeting.
Convened under the theme “Reflecting on the urgent need for actions to achieve a healthy planet and prosperity of all”, the dialogue is one of three being held alongside two days of plenary debate. The guidance offered will feed into the overall recommendations from the two-day international meeting.
In opening remarks, Steven Guilbeault, Minister for Environment and Climate of Canada, said today’s discussion will focus on transforming the relationship with nature and implementing bold action to stop climate change. In that context, he underscored the need to fight plastics and chemicals pollution, and to integrate the voices of indigenous peoples throughout such efforts. “In most cases, we know the problems and the solutions,” he said. Robust action is needed to spur outcomes. “We all have a meaningful role to play.”
Gustavo Rafael Manrique Miranda, Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition of Ecuador, said that, 50 years after the Stockholm Conference, 193 countries around the world are still seeking structural solutions to the planetary crisis. A global approach is needed to foster both innovation and investments in clean technology. Financing gaps must be closed and resources mobilized. He urged participants to move away from calculated moves and address local realities. “Today, we are at a tipping point,” he said. “We have no time to lose.”
The day featured a panel discussion with Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries; Azza Karam, Secretary General, Religions for Peace; Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Vanessa Nakate, youth activist and founder, Rise Up Movement; and John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.
Mr. Sinkevičius said the International Resource Panel found that the extraction and processing of resources constitutes one third of global pollution, half of emissions and drives 90 per cent of biodiversity loss. “Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 12 (responsible consumption and production) is crucial,” he said, stressing that it has not received the attention it deserves. The circular economy must be at the heart of the change. The dialogue’s recommendations should focus on supply chains and address resource efficiency.
Ms. Karam underscored the need for “a fundamental and phenomenal change in humans”. The only way that happens is when faith leaders become actively engaged in spreading the right messages to their communities. Noting that they have an unparalleled platform to hundreds of millions of people, she said no secular Government or entity has their reach. Faith leaders are fully aware of their power. They need to be brought together — notably with civil society, “a deeply threatened species” — and held accountable for the exemplary work they profess to do.
Mr. Steiner recalled the questions in 1972 around whether a fair platform could be created for all countries and stakeholders. “Every nation has a right to be heard” he said. The international community is under immense scrutiny. While describing the Montreal Protocol as “the first planetary repair job”, he said Governments and institutions alike are struggling to retain trust.
Ms. Nakate said that, when presented with the best science “over and over”, leaders have denied, delayed and for decades shown cowardness to act. She pressed leaders to acknowledge that — to keep the promise of the Paris Agreement on climate change alive — fossil fuel use must end. The global North — the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and multilateral banks, in particular — must make good on the pledge to scale up funding so that the global South can choose clean energy. Funding must come in the form of grants — not loans with high interest rates. Leaders must also work to create a loss and damage fund, and, by the twenty-seventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), put real money behind the communities suffering under a crisis they did not cause.
Mr. Kerry said the only way to build trust around environmental action is to “get the job done — and we are not, yet”. That the developed world — 20 major economies — produce 80 per cent of global emissions is not a matter of politics, but rather one of mathematics and physics. World leaders are indifferent to these facts. He encouraged them to summon a willingness to “break the mould” and end their fixation on the status quo. He urged Governments to get serious about accelerating the transition by deploying the technologies available to achieve a 45 per cent emissions reduction in the coming years. “We would win the battle, not lose it,” he said.
In the ensuing dialogue, a number of non-governmental organizations took the floor to demand a transformational shift away from the status quo towards a cleaner future, with the speaker from the International Union of the Conservation of Nature stressing that “we have the means, we need the political will to make this change”.
Several made recommendations, including the representative of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), who warned that the built stock of cities and towns will double by 2050, and called for “doing things right” by curbing sprawl and shifting from cars to public transit. The speaker from Worldwide Fund for Nature described nature loss as “a security issue for humanity”. He was one of several to recommend a global goal for nature.
The speaker from the International Chamber of Commerce similarly said more businesses than ever are committed to achieving net-zero emissions and placing sustainability at the heart of their operations. He called for revising nationally determined contributions ahead of COP27, devising a robust biodiversity framework and advancing the trade and environmental agendas in sync. The speaker from the World Health Organization (WHO), noting that 25 per cent of the global disease burden is due to environmental factors, underlined the need for a systems approach to food systems design.
Several speakers said efforts to achieve a healthy planet will not succeed unless human rights are recognized. The expert from Earth Rights International issued a clarion call to confront violence against environmental defenders. Noting that the most climate-damaging projects are located in indigenous communities, she pointed to the lack of recognition of environmental defenders in United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change discussions. The speaker from the Population, Health and Environment Ethiopia Consortium, meanwhile, urged Governments to incorporate sexual and reproductive human rights into environmental programming and devise a global treaty to end plastics pollution, while the speaker from Living Law advocated for “bold actions in law to close the compliance gap”.
Many civil society speakers focused on the challenges ahead. The expert from the World Resources Institute raised awareness of “nature crimes” — the exploitation of species and ecosystems — through such activities as illegal logging, wildlife trade and illegal conversion of forests for other purposes. Nature crime is thought to be the third largest illicit economy in the world, he said, with profits fuelling terrorism. No responsible investor will “put one penny” into nature-based solutions in lawless environments where the State cannot guarantee the integrity of ecosystems.
Echoing that point, the speaker from MENA Youth Network said “leaders have failed us”. They withdraw climate treaties, cut budgets and ignore their own pledges, while fossil fuel lobbyists easily influence outcomes. Youth demand that real action start here and now. Stockholm+50 should recommend setting a goal for nature, introducing mandatory greenhouse gas reporting and forging a legally binding treaty that covers global trade and supply chains and features a substantial liability and enforcement regime. “We are tired of the green washing. We are tired of the youth tokenism. We will not accept any more false promises,” she said.
For their part, Governments highlighted national and global initiatives to forge a better path. In that context, Azerbaijan’s representative said his country is party to 20 environmental conventions, while Nepal’s delegate said her country has raised high climate ambition to reach net-zero emissions by 2045.
Most offered recommendations. Pakistan’s representative, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, agreed that promises must be fulfilled. Efforts must ensure that discussions for a post-2020 biodiversity framework are successful, notably on the equitable use of bioresources, and that any discussions outside existing multilateral frameworks do not undermine those taking place under those frameworks.
Belize’s delegate said the circular economy must be designed for industrialized and developing countries alike. “Assistance has to commence now for technology and capacity-building,” he insisted, emphasizing the role of trade to curb biodiversity loss and pollution. “Where is the World Trade Organization (WTO) on this,” he asked. Belgium’s delegate called for pragmatism, stressing that “we have neither time nor resources to tackle challenges one by one”.
Others underscored the importance of maintaining hope. Offering historical context, the Czech Republic’s delegate said his country could not attend the 1972 Stockholm Conference, as voices in Czechoslovakia were silenced by the Soviet Union. “We simply have to continue,” he said. Denmark’s representative pointed out that many challenges that existed when she was a child have been solved. Young participants today should be able to say the same.
Zambia’s delegate recommended recognizing that the best solution lies in “letting nature heal itself”. He said the “elephant in the room” is the provision of financial resources and he urged all to double climate finance, per the promises at COP26, stressing that Zambia has bankable projects in the agriculture, mining and other sectors. Georgia’s representative called for a whole-of-society approach, involving “massive” coordination among Governments, the private sector and civil society, especially for reducing emissions.
Offering reflections on the day’s discussions, Antonio Benjamin Justice, High Court of Brazil and President, Global Judicial Institute on the Environment, recalled that many laws emerged from discussions in 1972, however there was no word on implementation. Today, “we are talking about implementation and there are justice representatives from all continents” he said, which sends an important message about enforcement and the role of judges in accountability. In 1972, discussions did not focus on human rights because many countries were led by dictators. “We have to believe in progress,” he said. “We have to be optimistic.”
Sunita Narain, Director General, Centre for Science and Environment, said that without inclusive, affordable growth, countries will not achieve sustainable growth. Justice cannot be done after everything else. “It has to be at the core of all actions you take,” she stressed. She pointed to air pollution as an example, noting that India has closed its last coal-based power plant and brought in new fuel. Yet, each time the weather turns adverse, pollution returns. She called for transformational and affordable action. “Incremental steps will not help,” she observed.
Darío Mejía Montalvo, Leader of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia and Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, underscored that protection of strategic ecosystems cannot be done at the expense of understanding traditional knowledge systems. Safeguards are needed to guarantee the identity and culture of indigenous communities. He called for collective actions to achieve outcomes.
Also speaking today were representatives of Spain, Botswana, United Kingdom, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Germany, Norway, Jamaica, Italy, Latvia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Israel, Greece and New Zealand. Speakers from Air Transport Action Group and Proveg International also spoke.