The First Earth Summit turns half a century old in June 2022. In this article we analyze the positive and negative events that resulted from Stockholm-1972 in these 50 years.

The Conference produced the “Stockholm Declaration”, which consists of two bodies of articles that contain seven Proclamations and 26 Principles aimed at normalizing the relations of human beings with the environment. The document has been compared to the “Declaration of Human Rights” and has been defined as a response to “the need for common criteria and principles that offer the peoples of the world inspiration and guidance to preserve and improve the human environment”.

The origins of the Stockholm Conference

The origins of the Stockholm Conference date back to a proposal by the Government of Sweden, set out in a letter dated May 20, 1968, addressed to the United Nations. In the attached explanatory memorandum, the Swedish government proposed to convene a conference under the auspices of the UN to seek a solution to the problems of the human environment. The Nordic country noted: “That man-made changes in the natural environment had become an urgent problem for both developed and developing countries, and that these problems could only be solved through international cooperation.”

The UN referred the matter to its Economic and Social Council, which decided to include Sweden’s proposal in its program of sessions held that same year. After long deliberations, the Council decided to hold “The Stockholm Conference” or “First Earth Summit”, also known as the “United Nations Conference on the Human Environment”, from June 5 to 16, 1972, between the UN and Sweden. It was led by Olaf Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden, and Kurt Waldheim, Secretary General of the UN. Representatives from 113 countries, 19 intergovernmental organizations, and more than 400 non-governmental organizations attended.

The Conference established a Working Group and three commissions that drew up the six main themes of the program on the environment, the main objective of the call:

  1. Planning and management of human settlements from the point of view of the quality of the environment.
  2. Educational, informational, social, and cultural aspects of issues related to the quality of the environment.
  3. Management of natural resources and their relations with the environment.
  4. Development and environment.
  5. Definition of polluting agents of vast international importance and fight against them.
  6. Institutional consequences at the international level of the proposals for action.

On June 16, 1972, after examining and debating the reports of the main committees and the Working Group, the text was approved by acclamation, with the title of “Declaration on the Human Environment”.

The Stockholm Conference, the positive and negative facts half a century later

Unfortunately, the facts show how little attention and interest we humans have paid to the wise “Proclamations” and “Principles on the environment and development”, issued in Stockholm fifty years ago.

The numbers speak for themselves. Let’s see for example the PPM -parts per million- of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. In 1972 they were at 330 PPM, by 2021 they already reached 416 PPM, an increase of 26%, the highest in the last three million years. PPM rates are directly related to the increase in global temperature. In the last 21 years, the global temperature has broken its record 17 times, which has increased the costs in human lives and has delayed the fight against climate change.

The main causes of the increase in PPM are fossil fuel emissions and deforestation of forests. The PPM are due to greenhouse gas emissions produced by automotive traffic, light and heavy industries such as steel, aluminum, chemicals, cement, the electrical industry, air and maritime transport, which grow as rate of population increase, which in 1972 was close to 4 billion humans and in 2022 is projected towards 8 billion, a doubling in just two generations.

Regarding the deforestation of the forests, just after the Conferences in Stockholm, the indiscriminate felling of forests increased. Borneo, the lung of Southeast Asia, was a pathetic case between 1970 and 2000. Also noteworthy is the aggressive deforestation of African forests. The Amazon rainforest, the lung of the world, began to be cut down in the 1970s and its aggressive and uncontrolled deforestation has continued to this day and threatens to get out of hand, with serious effects for all of South America and the rest of the world.

The main consequences of the increase in world temperature and the deforestation of forests are the increase in forest fires, droughts, air pollution, water scarcity for human, animal and plant consumption, pollution and degradation of soils and desertification of the planet.

The positive facts of the Stockholm Conference, half a century later

Despite all these negative aspects, we must recognize that today there is a greater public awareness than 50 years ago about global warming, climate change and related issues. The same can be said about climate education, recycling, people’s awareness, etc. Today there are several movements that fight against climate change, in which thousands of children, teenagers and young people participate. But we can see the greatest progress in the energy transition that is in full swing, something that we cannot say about the deforestation of forests, the Achilles heel of humanity.

The production of photovoltaic panels for solar energy and the installation of wind power towers are an unstoppable reality. The manufacture of cars and other electric transport is growing. Almost all car factories are competing strongly to conquer the electromobility market. As for the countries, there are already announcements of a total ban on internal combustion cars between 2030 and 2050.

Green hydrogen deserves a special chapter

Green hydrogen (H2V) is set to become the key fuel in the planet’s energy transition process. The H2V is extracted from the water by electrolysis, a 100% clean procedure, since the electricity needed by the electrolyzers to separate the H2 from the H2O is generated by renewable sources such as solar energy, wind energy or hydraulic energy. For this reason, it is called green hydrogen, to differentiate it from the H2 that comes from oil, coal or natural gas, the extraction of which does release greenhouse gases.

H2V is the ideal fuel to complement solar, wind and hydraulic energy, since they lack the necessary capacity to move heavy industries such as steel, aluminum, chemicals, cement, the electrical industry, transportation air and sea, while H2V does.

The decarbonization process is unstoppable and will be a triumph for humanity.

A number of companies and countries are working to increase H2V production to lower the costs and prices needed to compete with fossil fuels. Let’s see:

In December 2020, six world leading companies announced the formation of “The Green Hydrogen Catapult”, a global coalition that will accelerate the scale and production of H2V, multiplying it fifty times in the next six years. This will undoubtedly help transform the most coal-intensive industries, such as power generation, chemicals, steel, and air and shipping.

In December 2021, Iberdrola and H2 Green Steel signed an agreement to build an H2V plant with an installed capacity of 1,000 MW to feed a direct reduction steel furnace with the capacity to produce nearly two million tons of steel per year.

The Shell oil company began to take steps to join the energy transition club. The oil giant signed an agreement with Germany’s Thyssenkrupp to carry out the construction of a huge 200 MW hydrogen electrolysis plant in the port of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

Recently, the Ningxia Baofeng Energy Group, which operates in China “mainly dedicated to the production of coal and the sale of chemical products, has launched one of the largest green hydrogen projects in the world (…), has managed to put into operation a huge 150 MW alkaline electrolyzer powered by 200 MW solar panels.” Another case is that of the Chinese oil giant Sinopec, that “commits $470m to 300MW hydrogen electrolyzer in China”.

Sandor Alejandro Gerndas-Kiss

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