From Stockholm to Stockholm: 50 Years of Unwavering Call to Action and Co-operation

Sweden is a pioneer in environmental policy, a leader in environmental research and innovation, and is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most sustainable nations. It is the first country to pass an environmental protection act and establish an environmental protection agency in 1967. To combat climate change, Sweden set ambitious targets such as banning the sale of new fossil fuel cars by 2030, reaching 100% renewable electricity production by 2040, and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.

In 1972, Stockholm hosted the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (“The 1972 Stockholm Conference”). To commemorate 50 years since that landmark Conference, the United Nations General Assembly will convene an international meeting – Stockholm+50: A Healthy Planet for the Prosperity of All – Our Responsibility, Our Opportunity – hosted by the Government of Sweden on 2 and 3 June 2022.

The 1972 Stockholm Conference was momentous in many ways. It recognised the environment as a major issue and made it a focal point of global concerns. It fostered the spirit of multilateral co-operation on environmental conservation with the Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan for the Human Environment, setting the tone for future agreements including the Kyoto Protocol, the Montreal Protocol, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Paris Agreement. It also led to the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In the past five decades, we witnessed growing awareness on the environment and sustainable development from national governments, the private sector, civil society and individuals. The 1972 Stockholm Conference was attended by delegates from 122 countries, whereas the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (“COP26”) brought together political leaders and other participants from almost 200 countries. We also saw the establishment of environment ministries around the world since the 1970s, marking a new era of environmental management, regulation and governance.

Despite the positives, the world is still facing daunting environmental challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, and waste management, not to mention pressing social sustainability issues such as equity, diversity, education and health, as well as COVID-19. These issues and their impact on mankind are exacerbated by overpopulation, overurbanisation and overconsumption of natural resources – world population more than doubled from 3.7 billion to 7.8 billion between 1970 and 2020, with urban population grew over threefold from 1.35 billion to 4.38 billion during the same period; Earth Overshoot Day moved forward from 30 December in 1970 to 29 July in 2021, showing human demand for ecological resources largely surpassed what the planet can regenerate in a year.

Stockholm+50 is therefore much more than a commemoration. The meeting offers an opportunity to reflect on the shortcomings in the past 50 years, galvanise and accelerate bold action and action-oriented engagement from all sectors of society towards a sustainable and healthy planet for current and future generations.

Thousands of miles away from Sweden, Hong Kong should keep an eye on Stockholm+50, which is highly relevant to us being part of the international community facing climate emergency, post-COVID recovery and other global sustainability challenges. Hong Kong has set ambitious targets to achieve carbon neutrality, zero landfill and better air quality in the coming decades. Action and togetherness are required more than ever. To celebrate BEC’s 30th anniversary, we are planning a series of activities with the overarching theme of Galvanising Business Action Through Leadership, Innovation and Partnership. The first major event of the year will be a full-day EnviroSeries Conference “Driving Business Ambition into Action for a Net-zero Hong Kong” on 17 June. Mr Per Augustsson, Consul General of Sweden to Hong Kong and Macau, will deliver a speech that connects insights from Stockholm+50 and action in Hong Kong. Other speakers will showcase the importance of setting business climate ambition and taking early action, and illustrate how innovation and partnership can bridge the gap between pledges and action.

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