Author Pamela Chasek highlights intergovernmental cooperation and the recognition that global challenges are interconnected as the most important legacies of the 1972 Stockholm Conference.
She credits it for early recognition of the importance of stakeholder engagement and the “enduring search for solutions to reconcile economic development and environmental management”.
This is the final brief in the ‘Still Only One Earth’ series published by IISD in the lead-up to Stockholm+50.
As the world community prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm+50), which lay the foundation for modern environmental diplomacy, a triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution is putting multilateralism to the test. A ‘Still Only One Earth’ policy brief from IISD argues that while intergovernmental cooperation is key, governments and all stakeholders must rise to the occasion to avoid “catastrophic” damage to the environment.
Published on the eve of the Stockholm+50 meeting, taking place in Stockholm, Sweden, from 2-3 June 2022, the brief titled, ‘The Legacies of the Stockholm Conference,’ examines the legacies of the 1972 summit and outlines challenges that lie ahead. It is the final brief in the ‘Still Only One Earth’ series published by IISD in the lead-up to Stockholm+50. The ‘Still Only One Earth’ briefs assess 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 argues, “have confirmed the importance of intergovernmental collaboration to address deeply intertwined, global challenges,” as the economic, social, and environmental pillars of sustainable development reflected in the SDGs demonstrate.
Chasek acknowledges Stockholm’s catalytic role in ushering in “a new era of multilateral environmental cooperation and treaty-making.” She highlights the milestones of international environmental governance, including the multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) of the 1970s and 1980s, the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development and the three Rio Conventions that came out of it, as well as more recent treaties, such as the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, the 1998 Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the 2001 International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGR) for Food and Agriculture, and the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury. She further argues that it was the Stockholm Conference that set in motion the process that led to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 SDGs in 2015.
Among other legacies, the brief credits the Stockholm Conference for:
- The recognition of the “need for a strong scientific foundation for global environmental policymaking,” reflected in the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) mandate to monitor, track, and record environmental data, which led to the establishment 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;
- The early recognition of the importance of stakeholder engagement; and
- The “enduring search for solutions to reconcile economic development and environmental management.”
Among major challenges the world is facing today, Chasek identifies reversal of progress on poverty eradication – a precondition for sustainable development – due to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19, she argues, “also magnified the inequalities in healthcare systems and demonstrated that existing environmental policies do not effectively support global health and sustainable development objectives.” Ensuring water and sanitation for all, too, remains one of the world’s biggest challenges. New issues, such as plastics pollution, the illegal wildlife trade, and new forms of biotechnology are posing additional challenges to multilateralism.
The brief notes that there is “[g]rowing pressure for new rules and agreements that meaningfully consider sustainable development and trade” by eliminating harmful energy, agricultural, and fisheries subsidies, 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.”
Hosted by the Government of Sweden, with support from the Government of Kenya, Stockholm+50 will convene under the theme, ‘A Healthy Planet for the Prosperity of All – Our Responsibility, Our Opportunity.’ Both a commemoration and a call to action, it aims to accelerate the implementation of the UN Decade of Action to deliver 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]