50 years since Stockholm conference, calls grow to act on fossil fuels

ByJayashree Nandi
Jun 04, 2022 12:04 AM IST

The conference, Stockholm+50, was held to commemorate 50 years since the first meeting held in the Swedish capital when the world initially confronted the idea that development needs to be environmentally sustainable

NEW DELHI: Scientists, researchers and activists from around the world gathered in Stockholm on Friday and were expected to issue a strongly worded resolution calling on countries to phase out fossil fuels and support developing nations in the transition to clean energy.

Protesters take part in the Fridays For Future climate demonstration in connection with the Stockholm +50 UN meeting, in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday. (REUTERS)
Protesters take part in the Fridays For Future climate demonstration in connection with the Stockholm +50 UN meeting, in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday. (REUTERS)

The conference, Stockholm+50, was held over Thursday and Friday to commemorate 50 years since the first meeting held in the Swedish capital when the world initially confronted the idea that development needs to be environmentally sustainable.

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The United Nations system should “facilitate multilateral processes to ensure a just and equitable phase out of fossil fuels and finance for the transition, to be agreed by all countries, in the context of achieving sustainable development and eradication of poverty” said one of the resolution proposals under discussion.

A resolution was expected by the end of the meeting. The Stockholm+50 conference did not involve any multilateral negotiations but scientists, researchers and activists.

The draft statements that came out of Stockholm earlier on Friday left many researchers unhappy. One point of contention was the lack of a mention of “overconsumption” or “cutting back on consumption” which has led to the climate crisis.

Another example from the draft resolution states: “Private sector to strengthen the application of their creativity and innovation to solving sustainable development challenges, while respecting and promoting human rights, labour and environmental rights, and health standards.” But the draft doesn’t talk about sharing and distribution of public goods.

“I am not expecting much at the moment. I hope the resolution speaks straight and highlights the key problems that scientists have already flagged,” said a civil society member, asking not to be named.

On June 1, several climate, environment and social scientists wrote a letter, published in the journal Nature, “to fellow citizens of Earth” ahead of Stockholm+50. The letter is similar to the Menton Message, signed by 2,200 scientists ahead of the 1972 Stockholm conference, calling “attention of fellow beings” to the impending environmental crisis.

The International Science Council, Future Earth and the Stockholm Environment Institute convened an Expert Writing Group of natural scientists, social scientists and humanities scholars to modernise and extend the historical call on the eve of Stockholm+50 which resulted in the letter.

A reading of both captures how in 2022, there are contemporary problems of consumption and climate crisis. The Menton Message highlighted issues of contamination - “The most widely recognised example of this process is the penetration into food-chains all over the world of poisonous substances such as mercury, lead, cadmium, DDT and other chlorinated organic compounds, which have been found in the tissues of birds and other animals far removed from the origin of the poisons”.

The message had also called attention to hunger, overcrowding, population and war. On resource extraction, it had said: “Even under the best of circumstances, the Earth could not provide resources in amounts sufficient to enable all people to live at the level of consumption enjoyed by the majority in the industrial societies, and the contrast between lifestyles dictated by extreme poverty and those permitted by affluence will continue to be a source of conflict and revolution.”

In the 2022 letter, the focus is consumption and its impact: “We humans are ultimately responsible for the crisis, but to varying degrees: a minority are responsible for a majority of the damage, while those least responsible are hit hardest by the impacts. This letter is an urgent call to our global neighbours, to acknowledge the crisis, make personal and collective commitments in line with differences in privilege and responsibility, and work towards transformative change”. It added that the environmental and social predicaments of today are interconnected.

This is because the richest 20% consume about 80% of the world’s resources, the letter stated, adding: And the top 10% emit as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as the bottom 50% do. This consumerist lifestyle of a minority has led to loss of species, pollution, and climate change, all of which threaten our collective future, the letter states. The co-chairs of the expert writing group of the 2022 letter are Maria Ivanova, University of Massachusetts Boston, USA, and Sharachchandra Lele, from the Ashoka Trust For Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bengaluru and the Indian Institute for Science Education and Research Pune.

Lele said on Friday that they are calling on all academics and non-academics to endorse the letter in thousands

The Stockholm+50 saw ministers and leaders from UN member states making national statements; there was large civil society participation including a protest by The Fridays for Future and Rise up Movement on Friday. There were sessions on technology transition; circular economy; sustainable recovery from Covid 19 and marine plastic pollution.

“A commemoration of the Stockholm 1972 conference is important because it helps you reflect on what have we achieved in the past 50 years? Most often we are caught up in the here and now challenge. We are in panic mode to address acute crises on a day-to-day basis. What about the chronic crises like biodiversity loss, pollution, climate change? This conference has no negotiations so it’s not about arguments,” said Arunabha Ghosh, founder and CEO of New Delhi based Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) from Stockholm.

“For me personally, a good outcome would be a global movement to scale up the concept of circular economy and sustainable lifestyles. If we cannot change the way we live, we cannot change the health of the planet,” Ghosh added.

“Air Pollution is killing 7 million people every year. To turn the tide on air pollution, we expect the governments and business must work on a strict global plan to phase out fossil fuels, end fossil fuel subsidies and fossil fuel financing and ensure that the polluters start paying for polluting our environment…We, parents ask on the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm conference, that it must stand differently - not to state the problem but to show the way ahead. With true intent and transformative action now, we won’t need a Stockholm+100,” said Bhavreen Khandari, an environmental activist from Delhi who is in Stockholm to attend the conference.

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