Stockholm+50. A Wake-up Call?

In 1972, the United Nations conference on the Human Environment (5-16 June 1972, Stockholm) – also known as the Stockholm Conference – was the first world forum to focus on international environmental issues, The conference adopted the Stockholm Declaration and Plan of Action which set out principles for the preservation and enhancement of the human environment, with recommendations for international environmental action. It also created the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Twenty years later, the historic United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (3-14 June 1992, Rio de Janeiro) – the Rio Earth Summit as it is known today – committed nations to take an ecologically responsible approach to economic growth. Conventions on climate change, biodiversity and forestry ensued.

9 more UN conferences (7 New York, 1 Johannesburg, 1 Rio) have gathered the international community to deal with environmental issues since then.

  1. 19th Special Session of the General Assembly to Review and Appraise the Implementation of Agenda 21, 23-27 June 1997, New York
  2. Millennium Summit, 6-8 September 2000, New York
  3. World Summit on Sustainable Development, 26 August-4 September 2002, Johannesburg
  4. World Summit, 14-16 September 2005, New York
  5. High-level meeting on the Millennium Development Goals, 22-25 September 2008, New York
  6. Millennium Development Goals Summit, September 20-22, 2010, New York
  7. United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, 20-22 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro
  8. President of the General Assembly’s Special Event towards Achieving the Millennium Development Goals, 25 September 2013, New York
  9. United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development, 25-27 September 2015, New York

50 years later, on 2 and 3 June 2022 (next week) another “crucial” international environmental meeting will be held again in Stockholm. Stockholm+50 will commemorate the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and celebrate 50 years of global environmental action.

It’s time for bold choices. It’s time for urgent action. It’s time for a better future on a healthy planet.

In his “Our Common Agenda” report. the UN Secretary-General António Guterres says now is the time…:

  • to re-embrace global solidarity and find new ways to work together for the common good.
  • to renew the social contract(1) between Governments and their people and within societies, so as to rebuild trust and embrace a comprehensive vision of human rights.
  • to end the “infodemic” plaguing our world by defending a common, empirically backed consensus around facts, science and knowledge.
  • to correct a glaring blind spot in how we measure economic prosperity and progress.
  • to think for the long term, to deliver more for young people and succeeding generations and to be better prepared for the challenges ahead.

now is the time for a stronger, more networked and inclusive multilateral system, anchored within the United Nations.

These are all nice words, but how do we do it?

As Toby Ord explain in The Precipice:

Protection from existential risk is a public good: protection would benefit us all and my protection does not come up at the expense of yours. So we’d expect existential risk to be neglected by the market. But worse, protection from existential risk is a global public good –one where the pool of beneficiaries spans the globe. This means that even nation states will neglect it.

Nation states are not only unable to deal with the challenges we are facing up today, they are a very important cause of the problem, creating barriers to optimum global solutions, and sequestered by bureaucrats, autocrats and tyrants all over the world. The international institutions are, like democracies, in check.

75 years ago, the world emerged from a series of cataclysmic events: two successive world wars, genocide, a devastating influenza pandemic and a worldwide economic depression. For 75 years, the United Nations has gathered the world around addressing global challenges: from conflicts and hunger, to ending disease, to outer space and the digital world, to human rights and disarmament. In this time of division, fracture and mistrust, this (global) space is needed more than ever if we are to secure a better, greener, more peaceful future for all people.

Nice again, but let’s be realistic. Do you think that in 2072 or 2092 we will have the climate and environmental challenges under control? Will we have a United Nations organization leading? A better one? None?

After a large group of futurists from the Millennium Project (led by Jerry Glenn) made a formal written request for more-purposeful focus on foresight, António Guterres’ also included some indication that the UN may move to do so:

In this spirit, I propose a Summit of the Future to forge a new global consensus on what our future should look like, and what we can do today to secure it.

It is time for a wakeup call… Will we awake?


(1) Social contract that, to the best of my knowledge, nobody ever have signed.

Featured Image. UNEP. What you need to know about Stockholm+50


  1. It is time for a wakeup call… Will we awake?

    Given that the first I heard of ‘Stockholm+50’ was a few days ago via a tweet by Greta Thunberg, and that I’ve seen absolutely no mention of it whatsoever on the mainstream media ‘news’ [sic], I think the answer to your question is that, here in the UK at least, we’re sleepwalking off the cliff.

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