The global environmental movement began in 1972, with the first World Environmental Conference held in Stockholm, Sweden, hosted by then Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Among the heads of government who were also present was the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, who said that the environment and poverty were two major global issues that needed to be tackled together.
Since that watershed event, the United Nations has established the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and various environmental treaties such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. (UNCCD) have been implemented, which progress with their respective annual conferences of the parties (COP).
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To commemorate the event, the Government of Sweden, together with the Government of Kenya and UNEP, hosted Stockholm+50 in Stockholm last week, with participants from around the world to take stock of the environmental movement and plan for the next phase.
I had the privilege of attending the event and will share some of my thoughts on both the event and what needs to happen next.
The two-day event began with a high-level opening session, during which the Heads of Governments of Sweden and Kenya as well as the UN Secretary General and the Head of UNEP all took the speech, followed by plenary sessions for ministers from many countries, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, AK Abdul Momen.
However, the most interesting sessions were the many side events where different groups such as scientists, women, youth, farmers, indigenous groups, businesses and many more were invited to share their work and experiences. views on the future.
The main theme of the general conference was to reconnect the different strands of the original environmental movement, which has divided over the past 50 years, as well as to galvanize action at a faster pace involving all stakeholders, rather than governments alone.
I had the opportunity to share my thoughts during the closing session of the conference and I said the following.
Although there is much to celebrate in terms of global awareness of the importance of the environment over the past 50 years, as well as progress on different aspects such as climate change, biodiversity and pollution control , progress was too slow, too late, so we needed to change our approach moving forward.
The first task is to stop relying on government leaders to come to world events once a year and make promises, then go home and not implement their own promises. It clearly failed as a process. Therefore, there is a need for other global stakeholders to participate in these meetings and in the implementation of the decisions once they are approved. This includes the private sector as well as civil society networks and groups.
The second new element that needs to happen is to make young people more prominent in the decision-making process, and even in the implementation, and not just in advocacy as they currently are. Young people around the world have already demonstrated their abilities to take action and support environmental causes locally and globally. I suggested that we transform the annual UNFCCC pre-COP into a youth COP as well as an “responsibility COP” from now on. This has in fact been done with great success by Italy, which hosted the pre-COP26 in Milan last year before the main COP26 in Glasgow in November.
The next pre-COP27 will be hosted by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Kinshasa ahead of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt this year. This could be an opportunity to make it a youth COP again.
Finally, the biggest shift we need to make is in the consciousness of every person in the world, where they begin to see themselves first as citizens of planet Earth, before they see themselves as citizens of their country and of his city. This means that each of us must do everything possible as conscious citizens to preserve our environment, while looking after our own development and well-being. It is possible, but it will require a major paradigm shift in our thinking and engagement, from the individual level upwards.
It is important that we solve these problems in the next 50 years, otherwise the future will be unthinkable for our children and grandchildren in the decades to come.
Dr Saleemul Huq is Director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University of Bangladesh (IUB).