Decision-makers must close 50-year ‘action gap’ on climate, says report

The opening plenary of the Stockholm+50 meeting on June 2. “The knowledge and the means of solving our problems are known and available; implementation is missing,” said a report released ahead of the meeting. (UNEP)

Decision makers must close the 50 year ‘action gap’ on climate, say the authors of a report released in advance of the Stockholm +50 meeting currently underway in Sweden.  

“The ‘action gap’ is significant,” authors of the report “Stockholm+50:Unblocking a Better Future,” said.

“We do not have a gap in policies and aspirations, rather in actions.”

The Stockholm +50 meeting got underway on Thursday, marking a half-century since the landmark 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment. The 1972 gathering  put environmental issues on the international agenda and resulted in the Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan for the Human Environment.

Since then, the global community has made massive scientific, technological and social advances on environmental questions, but concrete actions are still lacking, said the report put out by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a research institute based in India.

“Since 1972, only around one-tenth of the hundreds of global environment and sustainable development targets agreed by countries have been achieved or seen significant progress; it is not enough,” the report said.

“The knowledge and the means of solving our problems are known and available; implementation is missing.”

John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, speaks, with Inger Andersen, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, at Stockholm+50. (UNEP)

The report stresses urgent action will be required to remove the policy incoherence, weak multilateralism and lack of accountability that it says is impeding response to climate change.

“We must ensure constructive accountability, which not only emphasizes answerability and responsibility but also incentivizes continuously improving performance and loops of raised ambition,” Asa Persson, the research director and deputy CEO for SEI said in a statement upon the report’s release.

“We need to make goals, targets and commitments matter and have value.” 

Arctic impacts
A file photo of sea ice near Ellesmere island in Canada’s arctic archipelago. Continued sea ice loss could be tipping point for the global climate within the century says a new report. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The lack of action by the global community on climate means several environmental tipping points may be triggered within this century, says the report:

Several of these could be in the Arctic, the report summarizes, including:

  • boreal forest transformation
  • Greenland ice sheet melt
  • Arctic sea ice loss
  • permafrost and tundra loss

Source: Stockholm+50:Unblocking a Better Future

Importance of Indigenous knowledge

The report is a syntheses of climate science along with recommendations for more robust implementation at both local and national levels.

Among the report’s recommendations are governments making sure all national policies are geared towards sustainability and making it easier for individuals to choose sustainable lifestyles in their everyday lives.

“The ample opportunities for policymakers to take action and the growing momentum for change gives me hope,” Nina Weitz, an SEI Researcher and project leader for the report, said.

“We see how public opinion reflects the urgency and willingness to change lifestyles, how youth worldwide demand and exercise more agency to fight climate change, environmental degradation and inequity, and that technological development and uptake is occurring faster than anticipated.”

Wind farms have had a negative effect on reindeer migration routes and grazing lands in Arctic Europe. Many Sami are concerned the much touted green shift will result in a land grab in traditional areas. (Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images)

The integration of Indigenous and local knowledge into national climate policies and assigning legal rights to nature, are also among the report’s recommendations.

“Despite recognition in international agreements of the importance of traditional or Indigenous knowledge for conserving biological and cultural diversity, few national policies explicitly include it,” the report said.

The report says Indigenous concerns are also frequently sidelined on environmental and development questions, such as in Arctic Europe where green projects such as wind power, are having massive environmental and cultural impacts on the Sami.

“In Sápmi [the Sami homeland] in Scandinavia, for example, Indigenous communities are seeking the application of justice principles to both mining and renewable energy wind farms, on issues such as the legitimate representation of communities during consultation processes, territorial fragmentation, and impacts including changes in reindeer behaviour around mines and windfarms with knock-on ecological impacts,”

Rights of Nature

The Rights of Nature doctrine outlines that nature has an inherent right to exist in the same way humans do.

The report suggests the Rights of Nature aligns closely with Indigenous value systems and in addition to helping the climate, could play an important part in Indigenous sovereignty.

“One mechanism for achieving Indigenous self-determination could be through the legal concept of Rights of Nature, which is closely aligned with Indigenous world views,” the authors say.

A reindeer near the village of Inari in Arctic Finland. The Rights of Nature doctrine could help preserve the environment, a new report says. (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

“Stockholm+50 is an opportunity to learn from the past, take stock of the present, and take transformational steps to create a legacy of a sustainable future for the planet,” Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of CEEW, said.

“With this report we have aimed to push the envelope and challenge our received wisdom. We now look forward to discussing the recommendations of the report with decision makers and policy institutions worldwide”

The Stockholm +50 meeting runs until June 3.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: “Our climate is changing before our eyes,” says WMO upon release of new report, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: The world could transition entirely to cheap, safe renewable energy before 2050: Finnish study, Yle News

Greenland: Melting of Greenland glacier generating its own heat and accelerating thaw from base, says study, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Will the green transition be the new economic motor in the Arctic?, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Wind farm delays in northern Sweden could hinder green revolution, Radio Sweden

United States: Biden closes half of NPR-A acreage in Arctic Alaska to oil drilling, Alaska Public Media

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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