Manufacturing had a big summer. The CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law in August, represents a massive investment in U.S. domestic manufacturing. The act aims to drastically expand the U.S. semiconductor industry, strengthen supply chains, and invest in R&D for new technological breakthroughs. According to John Hart, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity at MIT, the CHIPS Act is just the latest example of significantly increased interest in manufacturing in recent years.
According to a new report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations entities strengthened their environmental governance and staff training in 2021, signaling another year of steady progress toward improving the organization’s environmental sustainability.
Research funding agencies are on the path to providing guidance and incorporating sustainability language into grant applications. On top of the ultimate good to protect our environment and health – best practices reduce costs and increase lab productivity. Shouldn’t biomedical research labs qualify for sustainability-specific incentives, too?
The Million Advocates for Sustainable Science campaign from My Green Lab and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) is a letter-signing campaign that issues a challenge to science funders around the world to encourage sustainability best practices in research operations. It’s a way for scientists to directly demonstrate support.
The Supreme Court’s West Virginia decision puts the ball of developing rules for business to contribute meaningfully to sustainability squarely in the private sector’s court. When, as Joel Makower’s disturbing article in these pages points out, there has been little progress in meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, U.S. leadership is sorely needed.
But as I argued in a previous article, to make real progress in attaining sustainability we need a substructure of rules that creates a level playing field and prevents “free riders” from taking advantage of their rivals’ responsible actions.
The West Virginia ruling will undermine U.S. government regulatory action to do this.
At Sweden’s urging, the United Nations brought together representatives from countries around the world to find solutions. That summit – the U.N. Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm 50 years ago on June 5-16, 1972 – marked the first global effort to treat the environment as a worldwide policy issue and define the core principles for its management.
The Stockholm Conference was a turning point in how countries thought about the natural world and the resources that all nations share, like the air.
It led to the creation of the U.N. Environment Program to monitor the state of the environment and coordinate responses to the major environmental problems. It also raised questions that continue to challenge international negotiations to this day, such as who is responsible for cleaning up environmental damage, and how much poorer countries can be expected to do.
On the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference, let’s look at where half a century of environmental diplomacy has led and the issues emerging for the coming decades.
The Stockholm Conference, 1972
From a diplomacy perspective, the Stockholm Conference was a major accomplishment.
It pushed the boundaries for a U.N. system that relied on the concept of state sovereignty and emphasized the importance of joint action for the common good. The conference gathered representatives from 113 countries, as well as from U.N. agencies, and created a tradition of including nonstate actors, such as environmental advocacy groups. It produced a declaration that included principles to guide global environmental management going forward.
The declaration explicitly acknowledged states’ “sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.” An action plan strengthened the U.N.’s role in protecting the environment and established UNEP as the global authority for the environment.
The Stockholm Conference also put global inequality in the spotlight. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi questioned the urgency of prioritizing environmental protection when so many people lived in poverty. Other developing countries shared India’s concerns: Would this new environmental movement prevent impoverished people from using the environment and reinforce their deprivation? And would rich countries that contributed to the environmental damage provide funding and technical assistance?
First, climate change was making it clear that human activities can permanently alter the planet, so the stakes were high for everyone. The imperative was to establish a new global partnership mobilizing states, key sectors of societies and people to protect and restore the health of the Earth’s ecosystems.
Finally, while all countries were expected to pursue sustainable development, it was acknowledged that developed countries had more capacity to do so and that their societies placed greater pressures on the environment.
But while environmental diplomacy has demonstrated that progress is possible, the challenges the world still faces are immense.
Greenhouse gas concentrations are still increasing, and rising temperatures are fueling devastating wildfires, heat waves and other disasters. More than a million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, potentially leading toward the worst loss of life on the planet since the time of dinosaurs. And 99% of the global population breathes air that exceeds World Health Organization guidelines for pollutants.
The next 50 years: Trends to watch
As environmental diplomacy heads into its next 50 years, climate change, biodiversity and effects on human health are high on the agenda. Here are a few newer trends that also bear watching.
Outer space is another theme, as it increasingly becomes a domain of human exploration and settlement ambitions with the growth of private space travel. Space junk is accumulating and threatening Earth’s orbital space, and Mars exploration raises new questions about protecting space ecosystems.
The 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference is an important opportunity to think about development rights and responsibilities for the future while using environmental diplomacy today to preserve and regenerate the Earth.
On a recent brisk spring morning, in the backwoods of the Red Lake Reservation, Bemidji State University assistant professor, Awanookwe Kingbird-Bratvold worked among the maple trees. She emptied thick plastic bags of clear sap, harvested a drop at a time, into an old, white, five-gallon bucket.
On this day she’s alone. But often she has students help her as part of the curriculum for BSU’s new Indigenous Sustainability Studies Program. Together they manage dozens of maple trees, transforming a forested syrup camp into a modern-day classroom.