Fight against Inequality Requires New Relationship with Nature, Speaker Says at Stockholm+50 Dialogue on Achieving Sustainable Recovery from Pandemic
STOCKHOLM, 3 June — A green economic transformation that diversifies foodways and creates sustainability jobs is crucial, experts and activists from around the world emphasized, as they gave their clear-eyed assessments of the opportunities and perils of pandemic recovery in a leadership dialogue alongside the “Stockholm+50” international meeting.
Convened under the theme “Achieving a sustainable and inclusive recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic”, the dialogue is the second of three taking place alongside the two days of plenary debate, bringing together representatives of civil society and Governments in conversations that will guide the overall recommendations from the conference.
In opening remarks, Steffi Lemke, Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection of Germany, noted the drastic impact of the pandemic, with 100 million people driven back to extreme poverty. While CO2 emissions fell briefly, they have risen to record levels since then, she said, emphasizing that the fight against global inequality requires a new relationship with nature, especially in the sectors of food production and energy.
Tri Tharyat, Director General of Multilateral Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia said that an inclusive recovery must harness the social and environmental lessons learned from the pandemic, from supply-chain issues to vaccination inequalities. Pointing out that the global economic slowdown is projected to continue into 2023, he said, “we must recover together” by encouraging genuine partnerships.
The panel discussion that followed featured Dominic Waughray, Senior Adviser at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development; Reem Al-Saffar, founder of İklim Krizi Topluluğu; Gonzalo Muñoz, founder of TriCiclos; and Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, African Union Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Blue Economy.
Mr. Waughray said that, in the lead up to the Stockholm+50 conference, 70 key actors in the business world looked at global value chains to consider how best to contribute to the green transformation. Stressing the importance of accountability and transparency, he highlighted the need for a mechanism to set out exactly how investors and business are progressing against environmental targets to help stakeholders to see “how the dashboard is moving”. Also calling for a global circularity protocol, he said that, while there is a great deal of innovation across borders, it is vital to come together to harmonize these efforts with common standards.
Ms. Al-Saffar pointed to the historical roots of the global inequality, calling on the international community to acknowledge “merciless and exploitative colonialist histories” that destabilized many global South societies and hindered progress. Financial support for developing countries is not charity, it is retribution, she underscored, adding that financial access must go beyond adaptation and mitigation to focus on prevention. Also stressing the need to enhance circular economy systems, she highlighted the need to build capacity among youth. Many young people in rural and remote areas were left behind during the pandemic as education shifted online, she pointed out, adding that digital connectivity, especially in rural communities, is crucial to increase resilience.
Mr. Muñoz said that, while companies often say that it is difficult for them to make climate commitments when their value chains are not committed, the international community does have a tool that can enable this. “Join the SME [small and medium-sized enterprises] Climate Hub,” he said, inviting those companies to commit to the race to zero. Noting the current challenges facing enterprises, he pointed out that another concrete tool is the B-Corp certification. Many companies are using that tool to manage their purpose, he said, sharing his experience as the co-founder of a small- and medium-sized enterprise in the global South. “We need to invest in nature. That will pay back,” he said, adding that it can be as simple as planting trees. But by putting nature at the centre, enterprises can give more than they take, he added.
Ms. Sacko, stressing the importance of sustainable recovery in Africa, highlighted the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme, a collective strategy aimed at transforming agriculture on the continent. At the Second Ordinary Assembly of the African Union in July 2003 in Mozambique, African Heads of State and Government endorsed the “Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa” which committed to the allocation of at least 10 per cent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development. Highlighting the crucial role of the agricultural sector, she pointed to the prevalence of malnutrition in various parts of Africa. Noting the exacerbation of food insecurity as a result of conflicts and climate change compounded with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, she stressed the need to work with partners on ensuring a sustainable agricultural sector.
In the ensuing dialogue, a number of civil society stakeholders spoke passionately about seizing the historic opportunity of COVID-19 recovery to jumpstart a shift to greener economies and societies. “Let’s be more accountable to ourselves,” the expert from the Stockholm Environment Institute said, calling on Governments to make the “1.5°C lifestyle” easier to choose. The speaker from the Convention on Biological Diversity, describing the post-COVID-19 agenda as a once-in-a-century opening, pointed out that environmentally harmful subsidies amount to $680 billion around the world, cancelling out much green spending, and called for transforming agrifood systems by enhancing food diversity and regenerative practices.
Sustainable foodways emerged as a recurrent theme in the dialogue, with a representative of Vi Agroforestry pointing out that “the small-holder farmer will be the unsung hero of the future”. Calling for social protections to enable agriculture to withstand the climate crisis, she reminded delegates that the world will always need food. A representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), also speaking for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), said that scaling up financial flows to transform agrifood systems will deliver equitable opportunities, especially in the poorest and most food insecure communities.
Thousands of women have lost livelihoods due to climate change and conflict, the speaker from Women for a Change pointed out, highlighting how these systemic inequalities stem from colonialism and militarism. Stop the war and redirect budgets to care and equitable recovery, she said, calling for a “decolonial green deal” that centres on the leadership of women from the global South.
Many stakeholders also sounded warnings about the dangers of diluting the green recovery. A speaker from Normative.io cautioned about unintentional greenwashing, one of the perils of combining “good intentions and bad mathematics”. Many carbon offsets completely fail, he said, because companies do not include value-chain emissions in their calculations. United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth lamented that the international community has “fallen deeper than ever into business as usual”. Stressing the importance of building green and digital economies, she highlighted the need for universal education, social protection and decent jobs.
“There will be no jobs on a dead planet,” the official from the International Labour Organization (ILO) emphasized, calling for a pandemic recovery that is equitable to people and the environment. A youth delegate from Fridays for the Future Peru called for an urgent transition to green jobs, stressing that the international community must build young people’s capacities to participate in sustainable economies.
Representatives of various Governments also took the floor today, many of them stressing the importance of directing pandemic recovery financial flows towards green initiatives in developing countries. Kenya’s delegate called for short-, medium- and long-term assistance packages to respond to urgent needs, as well as build resiliency to future shocks, while Pakistan’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted that of the $4 trillion to $5 trillion pledged to finance recovery in the developing world, only a fraction of that has been made available.
Ecuador’s delegate advocated for a move away from the capitalist logic of accumulation and acculturation towards local and ancestral models of sustainable and self-sufficient agriculture, while Lithuania’s delegate, pointing out that multinational companies have become even more powerful in the 50 years since the 1972 Stockholm Conference, called for a global carbon tax as well as standards for green purchasing.
Other delegates shared solutions they are implementing to bring forth greener societies, with the representative of Saudi Arabia drawing attention to a green initiative in his region, that includes the planting of 10 billion trees in his country and 40 billion in the region. Morocco’s delegate said investments in renewable energy have made his country one of the leaders in this field.
The representative of France shared her country’s experience directing pandemic recovery funds towards ecological renovation of infrastructure and electric vehicles. Austria’s delegate highlighted the recently launched national transportation ticket, costing €2 a day, which gives access to public transport all over the country. “I am here as a politician and a father,” he said, stressing the importance of preserving the environment for the use of future generations.
Offering reflections on the day’s discussions, David Boyd, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, said the international community should feel outraged about the environmental injustices of today’s world. Describing the current situation as a “global environmental emergency”, he drew attention to the fact that pollution has killed more people in the last two years than COVID-19. However, there is room for optimism, he said, noting that the Human Rights Council of the United Nations recently recognized that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. For too long, Governments have treated these foundations of life as options, he said, calling for immediate efforts to phase out fossil fuels. The subsidies that destroy nature must be redirected towards sustainable activities, he said, calling on the international community to harness the power of the right to a healthy environment.
Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Chairperson of Global Environment Facility, however, pointed out that it is not enough to have the United Nations recognize the right to a healthy environment; it needs to be enshrined in every country’s constitution. Emphasizing that even 10 times the amount of current green funding will not be enough if the international community continues investing in unsustainable production and consumption side by side, he lamented the lack of political coherence. The international community must get better at protecting natural capital in the same way that it protects human and financial capital, he said, adding that this is not just a matter of putting more money in; rather, it is about redefining social contracts.
“Are we serious about this?” Joan Carling, Executive Director of Indigenous Peoples Rights International, asked in a passionate plea to the audience to “stop the talk and walk the walk.” Indigenous people, who count for 6 per cent of the global population, protect 60-80 per cent of global biodiversity. “This is not a coincidence,” she underscored, pointing to the sustainable lifestyle of indigenous communities, who live in solidarity and reciprocity with nature. Current production and consumption patterns are dictated not by need but by profit, she lamented, calling on the international community to rethink sustainability to focus on the intergenerational use of resources.
Janez Potočnik, Co-Chair of the International Resources Panel, noting that, in the last 50 years, humankind has tripled the consumption of materials extracted from the earth, added that, at current levels, this will be doubled by 2050, with high-income countries responsible for most of the consumption. Stressing the importance of sustainable cities with well-managed mobility, locally produced food and balanced neighbourhoods, he said that current international efforts tend to focus on cleaning the supply side, without addressing the demand side. “We need to ask consumption-related questions,” he said, calling for responsibility and equity, especially in high-income countries, to combat wastefulness of production and consumption. “If we want to avoid extinction of elephants in nature, we need to extinct the elephants in this room,” he said.
Also speaking today were representatives of Algeria, Bangladesh, Portugal, United States, Togo, Libya, Philippines, Japan, Türkiye, Finland, Indonesia, Argentina, Sri Lanka and Guatemala, as well as a representative of the European Union.
Speakers from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Chatham House, University Student Chambers International, Global Strategic Institute for Sustainable Development, Green Climate Fund, Network of Rural Women Producers Trinidad and Tobago, and Recycling Partnership also participated in today’s dialogue.