Marking the 50 years since the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment, this year's UN international meeting was called 'Stockholm+50: a healthy planet for the prosperity of all - our responsibility, our opportunity', and was held in Stockholm on 2–3 June 2022.
Those who even vaguely follow international affairs would be aware that there has been a constant flow of high-level policy reports or "calls to action" for decades already but which, regrettably, have failed to deliver much in the way of progress toward planetary health. As noted by this report's authors "the track record to deliver on the [human-environment]ambitions of half a century ago remains poor".
So this report, a collaboration between the StockholmEnvironment Institute (SEI) and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) setout with the aim to leave behind a new legacy:
"Stockholm+50 can be a watershed moment for unlocking change that is substantial and systemic", write the authors. "[The report] presents key actions that can be taken now to seed transformative change and that are needed to redefine the relationship between humans and nature, ensure lasting prosperity for all, and invest in a better future. "
It may be tempting to be dismissive of what might first sound like well-worn hyperbole. But there was something in the pages of this report that caught our attention - and which set it apart from those that have preceded it.
Not only was there recognition about the need to fundamentally redefine the human-nature relationship from one of extraction to one of care, but explicit emphasis was also given to the role of nature connectedness in achieving this.
"Human-nature connectedness should be strengthened in our social norms and value systems, and in how we live our everyday lives, by integrating nature in our cities; protecting animal welfare and shifting to more plant-based diets; increasing nature- based education for children and youth; and recognizing and drawing on Indigenous local knowledge."
In expanding each of these tenets, the authors emphasise that enhancing human-nature connectedness is a powerful approach in rectifying our relationship with the planet. Not only does strengthening connectedness benefit human well-being but higher levels of connectedness have been repeatedly shown to correlate with people's willingness to make choices and engage in behaviours that are 'pro-environment'.
Unlike other reports which have haphazardly referred to humanity's need to reconnect with nature, the authors of this report draw on the wealth of empirical evidence to suggest that "human-nature connectedness can be increased through carefully designed interventions to prompt engagement with nature".
The authors cite the influential work of Prof. Miles Richardson and colleagues who have created a set of 'Nature Connectedness Pathways' that recommend experiencing nature through the senses, being emotionally connected to nature, appreciating the beauty of nature, recognising how nature brings meaning to one's life, and actively caring for nature.
This growing evidence and 'know-how' concerning nature connectedness is now being widely viewed as "an important 'leverage point for deep transformative change towards a sustainable future."
Furthermore, such insights can be adopted in urban design (drawing on, e.g. biophilic design and biomimicry), education and elsewhere, to encourage a "cultural reset" on how we see nature – and how we then 'use' or interact with nature.
This applies equally to both high-income an low-income settings, and at its very core emphasises the need to design liveable urban spaces where residents have equitable access to ecosystems, regardless of socio-economic status or demographics.
The report cites a 2021 study from Barboza and colleagues who looked at more than 1000 cities in 31 European countries and found that up to 43 000 premature deaths could be prevented each year if these cities were to achieve the World Health Organization recommendations regarding residential proximity to greenspace – nearly a third of the European population lives below that recommendation. The authors state that human well-being diminishes as we become physically distanced from the natural spaces needed for health and well-being, inspiration, relaxation or sense of belonging.
Critically, emphasis is also given the to the role of Indigenous knowledge as being essential to informing and strengthening human-nature connectedness and, by extension, the pro-nature behaviours that arise form that.
Overall the report, with its various recommended actions (not all covered in this article) represents a promising paradigmatic shift in the policy sphere:
"Repairing the relationship between people and nature will require redressing a core imbalance in how individuals and societies value nature, so that more emphasis is placed on the intrinsic and relational value of nature than is currently the case."
We equally hope that the work we do at NatureFix can help inculcate the kind of relational values needed for fostering planetary regeneration.
Source: SEI & CEEW (2022). Stockholm+50:Unlocking a Better Future. Stockholm Environment Institute. DOI:10.51414/sei2022.011
Read the fullreport here < https://www.stockholm50.report/unlocking-a-better-future.pdf >