Stockholm summit marks 50 years of UN environment work

Global leaders this week mark 50 years since the United Nations held its first environment conference, as the world faces intensifying climate disasters and war in Ukraine that threatens to overshadow efforts to slow global warming.

Stockholm summit marks 50 years of UN environment work
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and Sweden's prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, at the Stockholm +50 climate meeting. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

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.”

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Green Party leader: ‘Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament’

Per Bolund, joint leader of Sweden's Green party, spoke for thirteen and a half minutes at Almedalen before he mentioned the environment, climate, or fossil fuels, in a speech that began by dwelling on healthcare, women's rights, and welfare, before returning to the party's core issue.

Green Party leader: 'Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament'

After an introduction by his joint leader Märta Stenevi, Bolund declared that his party was going into the election campaign on a promise “to further strengthen welfare, with more staff and better working conditions in healthcare, and school without profit-making, where the money goes to the pupils and not to dividends for shareholders”. 

Only then did he mention the party’s efforts when in government to “build the world’s first fossil-free welfare state”. 

“We know that if we want welfare to work in the future, we must have an answer to our time’s biggest crisis: the threat to the environment and the climate,” he said.

“We know that there is no welfare on a dead planet. We need to take our society into a new time, where we end our dependency on oil, meet the threat to the climate, and build a better welfare state within nature’s boundaries, what we call a new, green folkhem [people’s home].” 

He presented green policies as something that makes cities more liveable, with the new sommargågator — streets pedestrianised in the summer — showing how much more pleasant a life less dependent on cars might be.  

He then said his party wanted Sweden to invest 100 billion kronor a year on speeding up the green transition, to make Sweden fossil fuel-free by 2030. 

“We talk about the climate threat because it’s humanity’s biggest challenge, our biggest crisis,” he said. “And because we don’t have much time.” 

In the second half of his speech, however, Bolund used more traditional green party rhetoric, accusing the other political parties in Sweden of always putting off necessary green measures, because they do not seem urgent now, like a middle-aged person forgetting to exercise. 

“We know that we need to cut emissions radically if we are even going to have a chance of meeting our climate goal, but for all the other parties there’s always a reason to delay,” he said. 

“We are now seeing the curtain go up on the backlash in climate politics in Sweden. All the parties have now chosen to slash the biofuels blending mandate which means that we reduce emissions from petrol and diesel step for step, so you automatically fill your tank in a greener way. Just the government’s decision to pause the  reduction mandate will increase emissions by a million tonnes next year.” 

The right-wing parties, he warned, were also in this election running a relentless campaign against the green party. 

“The rightwing parties seem to have given up trying to win the election on their own policies,” he said. “Trying to systematically push out of parliament seems to be their way of trying to take power. And they don’t seem above any means. Slander campaigns, lies, and false information have become every day in Swedish right-wing politics.” 

He ended the speech with an upbeat note. 

“A better, more sustainable world is possible. There is a future to long for. If you give us a chance then that future is much closer than you think!”

Read the speech here in Swedish and here in (Google Translated) English.