Stockholm +50 Conference: Lessons learned and unlearnt by African leaders

 By Daniel Wanjuki



Kenya stood
out at Stockholm + 50 as UNEP delegations engaged in a conference that
celebrated the UNEP birthday five decades ago.

delegation was accorded a standing ovation when it was their turn to

 The country has a special place in environmental
matters since it hosts the UNEP headquarters in the world. 



President Uhuru Kenyatta   addressing world leaders during  the Stockholm+50
International environment meeting.[

© UNEPStockholm+50]


 Kenya became the headquarters first UNEP after our
founding father President Jomo Kenyatta requested that the conference at
Stockholm in 1972 grant her the right to host the newly envisioned
environmental watchdog. 


At that, not many developing countries wanted a
watchdog anyway as this was seen as an impediment to cutthroat industrial development which was the bane of many first-world countries.  

In 1972, the world stopped for a moment,
called itself to a meeting dubbed “Stockholm Conference 1972,” and finally
concluded that the direction it had taken was leading to a narrow and winding
path to self-destruction. 


Pollution Biodiversity loss and Human population
growth were posing a persistent challenge. A decade before Stockholm 1972
conference was held, an Environmental Scientist and Conservationist Rachel
Carson, 1962 had written the famous book ‘The Silent Stream’ An instant
bestseller that was read by former US President Jeff Kennedy during the summer
of 1962.


This classic remains one of the best introductions
to the complicated and controversial subject of anthropogenic pollution. She
has noted that a certain stream had suddenly gone silent from industrial
pollution which had led to biodiversity loss. 


Rachel Carson had spent over six years documenting
the effects of DDT, a synthetic organic compound used as an insecticide by
numerous communities. 

Her analysis revealed that such powerful, persistent
chemical pesticides had been used without a full understanding of the extent of
their potential harm to the whole biota, including the damage they caused to
wildlife, birds, bees, agricultural animals, domestic pets, and even humans. 

this book, Carson discussed her findings and expressed passionate concern for
the future of the planet and all the life inhabiting it, calling on us all to
act responsibly, carefully, and as stewards of the living earth.


 [Image by © UNEP] Stockholm+50, an
international meeting convened by the UN General Assembly, held in Stockholm,
Sweden from 2-3 June 2022.

Additionally, she suggested that all democracies
and liberal societies must operate in a way that allows individuals and groups
to question what their governments have permitted to be put into the

  In her book, she observed that there were no frogs in her local
stream, hence the title of her book. ‘Silent Stream’ However, the world was not
ready to cede any of the newly acquired technologies such as fossil fuel
conversion to a myriad of products such as plastic manufacturers which were not
then identified as a source of pollution. 


There were numerous new products such
as motor vehicle parts that would make vehicles lighter and safer, the
housewives would carry oil in plastic bottles that would not break easily as
did glass bottles before. 

Clothes made of plastic materials such as polyester
were popularly known as wash and wear. So despite the warning from scientists,
the world threw caution to the wind and progressed to manufacture millions of
new products whose lifespan would outlast all generations born and


United Nations Environment Program UNEP did not
stop the direction we had taken but promised to guide humanity down the
treacherous path albeit at a slower rate. 

Since the middle 1980s, UNEP has made many attempts
to stop the earth from hurtling down the precipice but very often we lose the
breaks and now the warning is that if we do not stop the pollution we may reach
a point of no return by 2035. However, it has not all been gloomy. 

UNEP succeeded in closing the ozone hole caused by
refrigerants in the early 1990s, and in the last decade, the war on plastic
pollution is taking shape. Truth be told, the challenges facing us today were
not as clear in 1972 as in 2022.

 Plastic pollution was new, global warming
Carbon dioxide was low, and climate change was unheard of and was only being
discussed in scientific theories. 

All scientists were focused on discovering another
‘molecule’ that would make gold worthless and we gave them awards for each step
in the discovery of these chemical processes. 

We bastardized traditional methods that our
forefathers had used to control pollution and opened floodgates for all manner
of consumption that did not put into consideration inter-generational equity.
Profiting the current generation at the expense of future generations became
the order of the day as shareholders in corporate organizations sacked board
members for not returning double-digit profits.  

Sustainable exploitation of resources has become a
catchword only in this decade Fifty years late, after Stockholm 1972. 



This year’s conference has discussed a new drive towards
a healthy planet for the prosperity of all with emphasis on the linkage of
environmental crisis and humanitarian crisis.

 Stockholm +50 comes at a crucial time as the
Earth is in emergency mode, and urgent action is needed to address the path the
planet has taken. 

We need different approaches to the triple
planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution
and waste. Doing the same thing as in the past expecting different results will
not help avert these predictions. 

As world leaders and representatives from
government, business, international organizations, civil society, and youth are
gathering in Sweden for Stockholm plus 50 we should have a rule book on what
chemicals we need to remove from our environment to stem the pollution tide and
these should be adhered to by all. 

Our Women Representative Gladys Boss Shollei has
put together a list that should be on the floor of parliament but with the
National Assembly now standing dissolved in preparations for August elections,
we are yet to benefit from this glad move. 

This list of Dirty 220+ chemicals should be adopted
by UNEP to enable Rachael Carlson’s soul to rest in peace. Hopefully, the
scientists of the 1970s are still with us and these can help us return the
river to its original course.


Daniel Wanjuki, Lead Expert and CEO of Ecosave
Africa Ltd





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