Fifty Years After the UN’s Stockholm Environment Conference, Leaders Struggle to Realize its Vision of ‘a Healthy Planet’

Beyond the official proceedings, bold new proposals to make ecocide an international crime, grant nature legal rights and guarantee the human right to a sustainable environment dominated hundreds of side events.

STOCKHOLM—Diplomats from countries around the world gathered here last week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment—the meeting that made the environment a prominent international issue.

Last week’s two-day event was both a celebration of the principles germinated during the first Stockholm Conference and a marker of how far humanity has come, or in some cases, how far the world has yet to go to deliver on principles ranging from safeguarding ecosystems for future generations to environmentally sustainable economic and social development.

As expected, governments made no new binding commitments on climate change or environmental protection at last week’s meeting and the official outcome of the gathering is a document with ten recommendations for lawmakers with general tenets such as “placing human well-being at the center of a healthy planet and prosperity for all,” “recognizing and implementing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment” and aligning “public and private financial flows with environmental, climate and sustainable development commitments.”

But the official proceedings were only part of the story of the Stockholm + 50 meeting. Like its namesake event, Stockholm + 50 attracted environmentalists, scientists, academics and other members of civil society to protest, hold their own events, network and lobby officials.

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