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.
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.