Reflections on Stockholm+50
Arthur Lyon Dahl
13 June 2022
The UN Stockholm+50 International Meeting on 2-3 June was a remarkable exercise in alternative diplomacy. Since the UN General Assembly decided that it should not have an outcome negotiated and agreed by consensus, and it was open not only to high-level State representatives making two minute contributions in plenary, but also Leadership Dialogues with extensive advance multistakeholder preparation, an Action Lab and other formats, supported by some forty side events at the meeting location in Stockholm and many associated events around the world listed and linked in the official calendar, it represented a massive and creative brainstorming around the triple environmental crisis of climate change, biodiversity and pollution, and the challenges of setting a new course with concrete actions towards sustainability despite the pandemic, war and emerging famine.
For someone like me, who participated already in the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, and who has devoted a half-century to building regional and global environmental governance, Stockholm+50 showed that such efforts are not lost, even if still insufficient. Our International Environment Forum did what it could through associated events to support the common effort.
Through careful planning and a widespread spirit of good will, the meeting produced both a compilation of many outcome documents and reports, and a concise ten-point summary of major ways forward. This will provide useful input to the more formal convention negotiations in the months ahead and the Summit of the Future in 2023. It showed what could be accomplished when everyone works together in a positive spirit, and beyond the talking, it shared many examples of action already happening on the ground, and hopefully built a determination to work actively for the fundamental and rapid transformation in all aspect of society, including the economy, necessary to avoid the tipping points toward existential risks already emerging with increasing catastrophes around the world.
At the same time, unfortunately, the forces of disintegration driven by greed, selfishness, pride, lust and violence continue unabated. Between despots, autocrats, multinational corporations driven only by profit, and billionaires, all above the law (where it exists at all), the control of the destiny of humanity is still largely in their hands, and events like Stockholm+50 are irrelevant. This increasing fracture between extremes, playing out in many countries, demonstrates the fundamental governance failures that occur when the human system has globalized but our management of that complex human and natural planetary system has not kept up. We face the urgent choice either to create better governance through an act of consultative will, the premises of which were evident in Stockholm+50, or to suffer increasing crises until the survivors are forced to act, as we saw, for example, in the catastrophes that led to the United Nations.
A central aim of government is, or should be, to provide for the common good beyond what individuals can do for themselves, and to protect the generality of the population from evil-doers and criminals. Security is fundamental to governance, and today human security can only be obtained through global governance, as recent events have demonstrated only too well. Stockholm+50 provides the first important push since the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change to reverse our negative direction of travel. Everyone of good will should unite in their efforts to transition rapidly to a better world, withdrawing all support from the materialistic economy, consumer culture and war machines that are leading us to destruction. It will often be necessary to start at the community level, and to empower the youth to lay the foundations for a renewed global society with room for all the wonderful human and natural diversity with which our shared planet is endowed. This will be the real path to human security and sustainability for all.
Last updated 13 June 2022