‘Lead us out of this mess,’ UN chief demands of world leaders at environment summit in Stockholm

‘We need to change course – now – and end our senseless and suicidal war against nature’ UN chief António Guterres says

Stockholm conference marks 50 years of UN environment work

The secretary general of the United Nations has demanded that world leaders “lead us out of this mess” at the launch of an environment summit in Sweden.

Stockholm +50 got underway on Thursday, half a century after the first UN Conference on the Human Environment. Thousands of people gathered in the Swedish city at a critical juncture, with the world facing the triple threat of a climate crisis, massive biodiversity loss and rampant pollution.

The inaugural 1972 event was the beginning of the UN’s push for global environmental action and eventually led to the formation of the UN Environmental Programme.

Speaking on Thursday, UN chief António Guterres said that while there had been successes over the decades, including reducing ozone layer damage, humanity was far outstripping the resources of the natural world.

“Lead us out of this mess”, he demanded of the high-level attendees who included King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, the Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose country is co-hosting the summit.

“We need to change course – now – and end our senseless and suicidal war against nature,” he added.

Mr Guterres said attention must focus on “poor communities, women and girls, Indigenous peoples and the generations to come”, and added that a clean and healthy environment was a basic human right.

The two-day event featured participants from governments, activist organisations and the private sector. Youth activists included Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate, Iraqi Reem Al-Saffar, Christianne Zakour from Trinidad and Tobago, and Joan Carling, founding leader and co-director of Indigenous Peoples Rights International.

The Swedish PM said in her opening remarks that “developed countries are the ones who pollute and have polluted the most”.

“We must ensure that no country is left behind. And we must ensure that no person is left behind. The climate transition can only be done if it’s made in a social and inclusive way. This is not just an option. This is our moral obligation,” Ms Andersson added.

So-called “Leadership Dialogues” at the summit will focus on how to achieve a healthy planet and prosperity for all people, and making sure recovery from the Covid pandemic is sustainable and inclusive.

Discussions will also focus on ramping up environmental aspects of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - 17 targets adopted in 2015 to tackle issues from hunger to climate change to economic growth by 2030.

In a letter shared exclusively with The Independent last month, dozens of scientists and other academics deemed the SDGs a “failure”, with one scientist dubbing them a “systemic greenwash” that undermines “challenges to structural power”.

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