Fifty years ago, the movement to save the planet was born in the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm. The environment was made a pressing global issue, and it brought the right to a healthy environment agenda to the UN negotiating table.
The Stockholm+50 was held in Sweden (June 2) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that conference. Just like in 1972, the Stockholm+50 conference could change the scenario of world politics to create a unified tone of global cooperation for climate, environment and development for the benefit of humankind and the world.
While celebrating progress in a few areas, we must acknowledge that the current global system is not living up to its promise of a sustainable future. World leaders have failed to fulfil their promises made at the 1972 Stockholm Conference.
Half a century has passed since the Stockholm Conference, however, the world remains as it was before. Rather, the crisis has intensified. There have been successful picnics and festivals on environmental protection issues. However, the rising tide of horrific greenhouse fuel line emissions could not be stopped. The polluters could not even ensure justice to victims of climate destruction by way of monetary compensation.
The point is, without strong political will, effective action and climate reparation, all climate and environmental meetings are meaningless and fruitless!
Now let's talk about the beginning of the Stockholm conference. In 1972, delegates from 122 countries rewrote how the global environmental challenge is addressed, called the Stockholm Declaration and the Action Plan for the Human Environment. One of the largest outcomes of the conference was the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme.
It was at this conference where it was mentioned that states ensure "freedom, equality and adequate access to life, in an environment in which dignity and well-being are recognised as fundamental rights." The Earth Summit was held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on the 20th anniversary of the Stockholm Environment Conference. The conference was attended by 2,400 delegates from 182 countries.
After 12 days of discussions and debates, 26 policies were announced and the 'Rio Declaration Eight-page agenda-21' was adopted. Not only that, the conference signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was adopted with the consent of 196 member states. It was further decided that a 'Conference of the Parties' would be held every year to evaluate the progress of the work. The first COP was held in Berlin, Germany in 1995 - three years after the Earth conference. In 2015, COP21 was held in Paris, France, and the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted.
After the long forgotten Stockholm Environment Conference and the Earth Conference, the world has witnessed 26 more summits in a row. Millions of representatives consisting of heads of state, heads of government, environmental scientists and human rights activists gathered, discussed and debated for hours on creating a world that was 'safe and livable for future generations' and many 'historic' agreements have been signed - but all with no tangible gain.
The largest evidence of this is the latest UN Climate Conference COP 26 held in Glasgow, Scotland. Despite strict implementation of the International Climate Agreement, Environmental Policy and National Environmental Law urging the reduction of per capita carbon emissions, capitalist countries have turned a deaf ear.
In doing so, they have committed a crime against humanity, biodiversity and nature. Their lack of adherence to reducing carbon emissions has plunged our only planet into a deep crisis.
Science is very clear that human civilization is on the verge of collapse. According to scientists, the average global warming increase in comparison to 1850 must be limited to 1.5 degrees. Otherwise, the destruction of the earth is almost certain. Meanwhile, a recent report by the UN Committee on the Environment states that the emission of greenhouse gases, a key component of global warming, was the highest in the history of human civilization over the last ten years.
Time is running out. If the environment here is polluted beyond recovery, we do not have another planet to go to. The Stockholm+50 conference is humanity's last resort to take climate action seriously.
The conference was held on the occasion of World Environment Day. In addition to the three-level leadership dialogue on Stockholm+50, similar to the high-level plenary, 48,000 delegates attended 50 side events and other events involving 200 agencies from the public and private sectors and civil society. The three issues of the conference were: Healthy Planet for All, Green Recovery from Covid-19 Pandemic and Achieving Global Sustainable Goals.
Stockholm+50 now has to prove itself to be more than just another international meeting. It needs to serve as a turning point in transforming our society into a prosperous, sustainable one.
There is an undeniable and irrefutable connection between human rights and the environment. Stockholm +50 is an effective tool for realising the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental human right because a healthy environment was defined as a part of "right to live" and a "basic human right" in the first section of the Stockholm Declaration. Regrettably, the world took 49 years to acknowledge this right as a basic human right.
The United Nations Human Rights Council's 47th session adopted a resolution last year recognising the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental human right. Despite this, most people in the globe still lack access to a secure, clean, and healthy environment. Currently, polluted air is inhaled by 90% of the world's population.
According to a study published in the UK-based health journal Lancet Planetary Health titled "Pollution and Health: A Progress Update," roughly 9 million people (1 in 6) died worldwide in 2019 as a result of environmental pollution. Bangladesh also ranks first in terms of pollution-related mortality, posing a new threat to humans as well as a climate risk.
Every year 30,084 people die because of water pollution. According to the report of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) 2022, Dhaka is the most polluted city in the world where the intensity of sound is more than 100 decibels. Then there is the monster of plastic pollution and the presence of micro plastics in the food chain.
There is a lot to contribute to the climate and environment dialogue to guard our present and future. Our aim is to emphasise the importance of children, young people and future generations at conferences such as Stockholm +50 or the COP. However, we are not being given the opportunity to take part effectively in the conferences. Without our voices at the negotiation table, the ambitious agenda of such meetings is certainly wasted words.
This conference cannot deliver any common good to us beyond a good publicity stunt. Therefore, policymakers need to accelerate young people's representation in major political forums. They have to consider the youth as active partners, and not merely a representative showpiece.
Sohanur Rahman is the Executive Coordinator, YouthNet for Climate Justice and Founding Member of Fridays for Future Bangladesh.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.