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The real story behind Stockholm+50

Helena Lindemark, founder and vice-chair of the 2022 Initiative Foundation, shares how to get engagement for a UN conference
Helena Lindemark with Greta Thunberg in Stockholm

This article first appeared in our World Environment Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 02 June 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Let me tell you a rather well-kept secret. This secret is something that Sweden and the team behind Stockholm+50 could (and should) be proud of, which is why I want the world to know about it.

The Stockholm+50 UN International Meeting is actually a concrete example of Sustainable Development Goal 17 – Partnerships for the goals.

Changing legislation

The story behind Stockholm+50 is indirectly related to a positive result from an advanced international training programme I led in 2002, during which 25 high-level participants from 20 countries developed projects for change.

Following exchanges with Swedish actors and participants from Africa, Asia and Latin America, the participant from the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency, Mr Li Xinming, decided to change his project. He asked if it would be OK to work on including the requirement for public participation in the Chinese Law for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

I of course answered that yes, that was a great idea! I was very impressed when I later discovered that, in less than two years’ time, the Chinese legislation was changed to that effect.

Approaching a silent spring

Inspired by the impressive results of the Chinese participant, in 2014 I decided to start the purpose-driven company Sustainable Development Sweden AB to accelerate sustainability.

Sweden is often seen as a role model within sustainable development, and the company’s name and purpose cried out for a bigger project.

When I was looking for that bigger project, I found a physical copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring – published in 1962 – in my parents’ home. Until then I had only been talking about the book in trainings. I realised that we are actually approaching the silent spring she wrote about.

I started to work in sustainability because of the Rio Conference, which took place when I worked at the UN in Bolivia. That in turn made me realise that one of the main reasons why Sweden is many times seen as a role model within sustainable development is that the brave political leaders at the time proposed and hosted the world’s first UN conference on the environment – the Stockholm Conference in 1972.

This made me think that, since we actually have a lot of solutions, in 50 years’ time we should be done.

50 years later…

After consulting with people like Jan Mårtenson, Göran Bäckstrand and Lars-Göran Engfeldt, who were all part of the core team for developing and arranging the Stockholm Conference in 1972, an international group of people started the 2022 Initiative project in 2015.

We realised that 2022 not only marks the 50-year anniversary of the Stockholm Conference and the formation of UNEP – it would also mark the approximate halfway point to the agreed 2030 Agenda, and later on also the Paris Agreement.

We launched our first website in September 2015, with a short video and the idea to accelerate action by including milestones and a mid-term review, in 2022, of the implementation of the SDGs.

Inside the Ministry of the Future

Since then, I’ve been engaged in a long period of advocacy for a UN conference in Stockholm in June 2022; as well as celebrating the 50-year anniversary, it would contribute to accelerated action to achieve the SDGs.

In January 2016 I explained the idea to the Swedish minister of environment. She liked it – but, since 2022 would be after the mandate period and at the time we had a minister for the future, I was advised to talk to her.

Our meeting at the Ministry of the Future, at the end of April 2016, closed with a lot of positivity to the proposal. We received the advice that a small startup company would not be the best organisational form to work with the government on developing a UN conference.

As a result we created the 2022 Initiative Foundation in 2017, which has been accredited to UNEP since 2021.

The key to success

Changes in the government a few weeks after our meeting in April 2016 made the pathway and our collaboration with the government a little bit challenging.

One of the people who has been supportive and given me strength to continue the struggle is Jan Eliasson. He quoted Alva Myrdal, who said ‘it’s not humane to give up’, during his continuous encouragement to keep up the good work, and he has helped me a lot – especially in difficult moments when I sometimes considered doing something else.

Jan believed in and saw the great potential in the idea from the start and has been supportive ever since we first talked in 2016.

If I were to give one recommendation to anyone considering launching a project such as advocating for a UN conference, I would say finding someone like like Jan – a high-level and respected person who supports the idea – could be the key to success.

Without his support I’m pretty sure that we would not have succeeded, and that there would be no Stockholm+50 conference today.

Forming a foundation

We decided to make the 2022 Initiative a foundation because, according to Swedish law, the purpose of a foundation can never be changed.

At its launch in 2017, Ulrika Modéer, then state secretary to the minister of environment, was one of the speakers and Jan Eliasson participated through a short video message.

The 2022 Initiative Foundation’s purpose is to accelerate a sustainable development that is in line with the SDGs, and to stimulate action towards the creation and co-creation of such sustainable development.

Other important criteria for the foundation include a holistic perspective (social, economic and ecological aspects) as well as collaboration between disciplines, sectors of society, generations and between actors from business, academy, civil society and the public sector.

The formation of the foundation turned out to be a very good decision that allowed us to comment on the Swedish government’s 2030 Agenda Plan in June 2019. The same month, Anders Wijkman (another important supporter) and I met with two state secretaries.

By then we had developed our proposal: instead of having just one physical conference in Stockholm, we proposed having parallel conferences around the world to increase engagement and reduce travel-related emissions.

Launching Stockholm+50

Finally, at the end of November 2019 the Swedish government decided to go ahead and propose a Stockholm+50 UN High-Level Conference in June 2022.

Since then, we’ve had several meetings with the Stockholm+50 Secretariat. Since 2016 we have also arranged dialogue meetings to accelerate action and contribute to collaboration and co creation between different actors.

The initiative’s international launch took place in Davos in 2020, and since then several hybrid and digital dialogue meetings have been held, including speakers like ambassador Johanna Lissinger Peitz. A side event at UNEP@50 was created in collaboration with the Club of Rome and Earth4All.

The Stockholm+49 Summit in October 2021 brought together a number of key experts and led to the development of a one-page Declaration for Stockholm+50 that will be launched at a side event at Stockholm+50 on 02 June.

Youths from MAPA

In spite of 50 years of global environmental work and four years of children and youths around the world striking every Friday to get action from governments, we have seen very little action.

We have come to a point in time where we need to see complete and urgent systemic changes and we need to act fast and support those who are already heavily affected by the climate and environmental crises.

To act on that we have initiated a collaboration with Greta Thunberg and Fridays For Future (FFF), and at Stockholm+50 we will be joined by a team of around 20 youths form Most Affected People and Areas (MAPA).

Save The World

Together with FFF, MAPA, Greta Thunberg and more, we will launch a music video and cover version of Swedish House Mafia’s hit song Save The World. The song will be a fundraiser; the more you play it, the more money you will raise to support MAPA. The launch will be made in collaboration with the UN Science Policy Business Forum on 01 June in Kungsträdgården and online.

Apart from Stockholm+50 side events and Save The World, you are welcome to join us and the MAPA youth at the Kungsträdgården 01-04 June, where we will be hosting activities such as an event for strengthened collaboration between UNEP and ECOSOC Major Groups; a world record attempt in clothes swapping and a hackathon to find ways to solve the five turn-arounds identified in the Earth4All report.

The late Swedish prime minister Olof Palme ended his 1972 speech with words that are also relevant to the real story of how Stockholm+50 has developed: ‘Our future is common. We must share it together. We must shape it together.’ Those words are key to achieving the SDGs within the planetary boundaries.

We need to see bold action now. Let’s join forces from 01 June and beyond to make Stockholm+50 the gamechanger it needs to be. Don’t forget to play Save The World as much as you can; you will be doing your bit to help to save the world!

Click here to play Save The World (Jarvis Smith feat. Rita Morar) on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you listen to music – each play will raise money to make a difference

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