50 years after the first UN conference on the human environment, another Stockholm summit is discussing how urgent measures can be accelerated. Climate protectors think little of the conference – and take to the streets.

The world as a guest with Greta Thunberg: Thousands of demonstrators called for more speed in climate protection at an international environmental summit in Stockholm.

They marched through the north of the Swedish capital on Friday afternoon as the Stockholm 50 conference drew to a close a few kilometers away in the Swedish capital’s exhibition center. Meanwhile, the conclusion of the summit was delayed until late in the evening.

For two days, thousands of representatives from governments, the private sector and civil society spoke at the conference on how to accelerate the pace of the fight against global problems such as the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and pollution and littering of the planet. The very first UN conference dealing with the human environment took place in the Swedish capital in 1972. That conference is therefore considered to be the birth of global environmental policy.

As on Thursday, dozens of countries emphasized on the second day of the summit that a lot had been done to protect the environment since the Stockholm Conference 50 years ago. On the other hand – according to the almost unanimous opinion – this is not enough to get the urgent problems of the planet under control.

One call that resonated both at the summit and on the street was for the end of the use of oil, gas and coal. «Keep it in the ground!» (Leave it in the ground), the mostly younger participants of the protest march shouted, among other things. One initiative backed their call for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. In a video to mark 100 days of the Ukraine war, Greta Thunberg and other activists emphasized that relying on fossil fuels means giving autocrats like President Vladimir Putin more power.

There were no new commitments or concrete resolutions at the summit. It was clear from the outset that no decisions under international law should be made, said Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke of the German Press Agency. However, the world climate and world conferences on nature are due before the end of this year, at which concrete agreements should be made.

On the way there, the meeting has an important function, said Lemke. «Decisions don’t just fall out of the sky. That is, they must be well and carefully prepared. There must be discussions and a broad exchange beforehand.” The conference makes an important contribution to this, for example on the topic of circular economy.

Climate and environmentalists would have liked much stronger and binding signals from the conference. “We look back on 50 years of missed and partly boycotted opportunities in climate policy and we know: It can’t go on like this,” said the German Fridays for Future activist Luisa Neubauer of the dpa. “It’s a peak of mixed feelings. This is a fundamentally strange event.”

On the one hand, you can see that summits are not enough to get the climate crisis under control. On the other hand, she has great hope that a rethink will take place, that change will have to come from civil society. “The message of this summit, I think, is that waiting for governments is doomed to failure. We have to take it into our own hands,” she said.

Thunberg herself stayed in the background at the major protest in her hometown to draw more attention to fellow campaigners from regions of the world where the climate and environmental crisis is already being felt. Activists from African and other countries of the Global South were at the forefront of the demonstration. They carried a large banner that read “People Not Profit,” insisting that the well-being of the people is more important than corporate profits.

Parallel to the protest, the second so-called EAT Lancet Commission was set up on the exhibition grounds. It brings together 25 leading scientists tasked with reviewing global goals for healthy eating and sustainable food production. “From a scientific point of view, we now know that there is no safe landing in the climate crisis unless we solve the food crisis,” said Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).