The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), born out of the original 1972 Stockholm conference, said the anniversary meeting in the Swedish capital takes place “amid the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.”
Decades of international diplomacy to curb humanity’s environmental destruction have made only halting progress, with scientists warning time has nearly run out to slash greenhouse gas emissions and avoid disastrous warming.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who will attend the two-day Stockholm meeting along with guests including United States special envoy for climate John Kerry, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine risked slowing momentum on the climate crisis.
“The sense of urgency in the debate on climate has of course suffered with the war in Ukraine,” he told reporters at a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on Wednesday on the eve of the conference.
“But I think this war has demonstrated one thing: how fragile the world is in its dependence to fossil fuels,” he added.
Guterres said the conflict further raises concerns about the ability of the international community to pull together to tackle the planet-wide effects of climate change and biodiversity loss.
“We need everyone under the tent. We have to avoid fragmentation,” UNEP director Inger Andersen said in a statement, calling for “bold actions” at the meeting.
Chief themes the conference will address are action on cutting emissions, the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and how to accelerate environmental protection into development policy.
Swedish EU Minister Hans Dahlgren, who will present Sweden’s statement at the conference, actually attended the original conference in 1972, then as a reporter for Swedish television.
It “became the starting point for the international collaboration that among other things led to the Paris Agreement in 2015,” Dahlgren explained.
He noted that the main difference now, a half century later, was the sense of “urgency” and that there are structures in place to deal with the issue.
“The climate crisis really is an existential question, and it needs to be resolved now,” the 74-year-old politician said.
Climate activists, spearheaded by Sweden’s own Greta Thunberg, have been frustrated by what they view as world leaders’ widespread inaction.
“I do not think there is anything to celebrate because the climate crisis is still here, has gotten worse over the last years and a lot of the political action has actually gone towards making it worse in different ways,” Falk Schroter, a 20-year-old activist from Germany told AFP last week at a Fridays For Future protest outside Sweden’s parliament.
Fellow German activist Eva Kroschel said she believed the real change would come from grassroots activism.
“That’s what gives me hope, having different activists working on this rather than politicians, because the change is going to come from the streets and not from the politicians.”