Signals, Trends and Drivers from Stockholm+50: Foresighting our Way Forward for Climate Resilience

September 26, 2022

Stockholm+50 conference was organized globally to commemorate the 50 years since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which made the environment a pressing global issue for the first time.
Now, 50 years after that Stockholm meeting, the world faces a triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and waste, nature and biodiversity loss, as well as other planetary ills that are affecting current and future prosperity and wellbeing. An unhealthy planet threatens human health, prosperity, equality and peace – as the world has seen only too clearly in COVID-19. It also threatens the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Stockholm +50 initiative in Samoa was launched on May 3rd at the UNDP Samoa multi-country office (MCO). Given the country was just getting out of the Covid-19 Pandemic lockdown, Stockholm+50 was celebrated in a hybrid format, with an online launch, followed by five webinars and culminating in an in-person day-long Talanoa event. The launch of the Stockholm+50 initiative in Samoa was graced by the Minister Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster from Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) as the keynote speaker and he was joined by SPREP Director General, Sefanaia Nawadra & UN Resident Coordinator, Simona Marinescu.

Post launch, the six consultation webinars were held between May 3rd and May 13th. These webinars had repsentantives from government, woman groups, youth organizations and universities, private sector business, community-based organizations (CBO) and finally civil society organizations and NGOs in Samoa. The webinars were concluded with Stockholm +50 national conference which was called: ‘Tanola for a healthy planet program’ which was held at Taumesina resort on May 13th

The objective of these consultations was to hear the voices and opinions of diverse stakeholders in Samoa on the triple planetary crises; come up with solutions together to mitigate the climate change risk and chart a path toward a healthy planet for all.

Although the agenda for Stockholm+50 was set globally, it was contextualized for Samoa. The questions revolved around the main topics: (a) a healthy planet and prosperity of all; (b) sustainable ‘Post Covid-19 Recovery and (c) accelerating sustainable development. Within these main topics, there were a range of questions guiding the participants to highlight different perspectives in which the main topics relate with their context. These consultations generated insights and collective intelligence for everyone working on climate change and sustainable development to embed within their work and further build upon.

Now, as we move to the follow-up phase of the Stockholm+50 consultations in Samoa, we want re-emphasis and remember that as much as Stockholm+50 is about commemorating and celebrating; it is also about stocktaking of where we are and more importantly articulate where we want to be.

By listening to a variety of stakeholders during the Stockholm+50 consultations, we were able to pull out our futuristic lens and look at the signals, trends and drivers that can inform our climate action plan for Samoa.

A signal is an event, or a development that is suddenly noticed. It looks like a disruption or an anomaly that might sometimes surprise us or may get our attention sublimely.

Signals are often observations that are bubbling up but not yet widespread. They are the kind of things that grab our attention and make one ask: "Why is this happening? What is going on here? It may not be clear where it’s coming from, and it can move in many directions with potentially large impact.

William Gibson famously said, "The future is already here, it's just not very evenly distributed." Signals can be interpreted as a sneak-peek into the future that is developing on the margins.

An important characteristic of signals is that they are neutral and can lead us to both challenges and opportunities. Signals are sometimes not taken seriously and often dismissed as anomalies.

Some key signals that were identified during the Stockholm+50 conference were:

  1. Nature-based solutions, climate action, green initiatives, and renewable energy were the main themes raised in the dialogues with emphasis on taking an inclusive approach to the engagement of communities and partners.
  2. There is increasing attention on crop production and developing climate resilient varieties.
  3. Coastal communities are encouraged to plant mangroves to help with coastal adaptation to rising sea levels.
  4. There is a growing focus on regenerative tourism as a sustainable livelihood option. For example, a non-profit organization, Artificial Reefs, has started providing eco-tourism kayaking and tours. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is training the village communities on coral restoration and coral gardens, enabling them to attract more tourists. These are some of the examples of a new wave of eco-tourism happening within Samoa which often also includes tourists getting involved in coral restoration too.
  5. The private sector is also joining hands with government and development partners and is exploring sustainable ways of doing business. For example, Digicel, one of the main telecommunications companies in Samoa, is also contributing to making positive environmental change in Samoa by planning to deploy renewable energy solutions for off-grid sites first, to cut carbon emissions. Digicel is also developing solutions such as vehicle tracking which give key insights on fuel efficiency, misuse of fleet and carbon emissions which help on the environmental front.
  6. It highlighted the need to encourage more women to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Having more female role models in STEM would help to develop more engineers in Samoa who can drive scientific solutions to address challenges from climate change.
  7. Another key signal was about climate programmes to be inclusive of marginalized and vulnerable groups and have their voices heard at the programme design level and not just implementation. People with disabilities within Samoa often feel neglected or not included in government and national programmes, so there is a need to develop fully inclusive jobs, events and environmental programmes that take in the needs of people who have disabilities within Samoa. 

A trend is described as a chain of events that move in a certain direction, which are likely to continue in the future. It is a flow of transformations that is not redirected easily.

A trend has a recognizable development path that is supported by multiple credible sources. In general, trends can be verified by collecting enough data to form statistics that prove their existence. Some of the more prominent examples are the development of the Internet of Things, rising populism in Western countries, and sustainable consumption.

It is an ongoing pattern of change and is usually taken seriously.

Some key trends that were identified during the Stockholm+50 conference:

  1. A key trend that kept reoccurring during the Stockholm+50 project in Samoa was the need for better rubbish and plastic recycling facilities. Plastic waste is one of the most urgent threats to the country's biodiversity and fisheries. If this trend is not dealt with, it will lead to poor air quality due to the burning of plastics and lead to increasing rates of microplastics found in the sea and in fish. In order to deal with the waste and pollution sector of Samoa, the Samoa Recycling & Waste Management Association (SRWMA) was established. SRWMA promotes the 3R's – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, plus Return for a Clean, Green and Healthy Samoa, and has become the voice of the recycling industry in addressing the problem of low value waste that is recyclable, such as plastics, e-waste, glass, waste oil and end life vehicles. The Association’s goal in promoting sustainable recycling and acceptable waste management practices is part of a drive to transform mindsets and attitudes towards waste.
  2. Push for policy reforms for renewable energy as a tool to fight climate change is another significant trend. The Government of Samoa has committed to developing new policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to develop new forms of renewable energy on the island. Samoa’s GHG emissions are negligible by global standards (0.0006 of global total emissions). However, as a member of the community of nations, Samoa is committed to play its part to address the global climate crises and urgently deliver ambitious climate action consistent with its obligations under the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. Samoa is also committed to playing its part in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming and to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. This is reflected in Samoa’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) with an ambitious target of “Electricity to be generated from 100% renewable energy sources by 2025” under the Electricity sub-sector.
  3. Growing voice for creating conservation zones both on land and ocean: Organizations such as Conservation International have been working with the Samoa government and local communities to conserve critical forest ecosystems and support sustainable management of their oceans. Within Samoa’s islands, there is a diverse range of ecosystems that support endemic and highly endangered species. However, unsustainable development, invasive species and land clearance associated with commercial and subsistence agriculture all threaten to unsettle nature’s longstanding balance in Samoa. Samoa currently has one terrestrial ecological region which has Samoan tropical moist forests.  These forests are high priority candidate sites for further protection as its occurrence in Samoa is more than 80% and its worldwide protection is less than 10%. In addition to the land, the focus is also on the ocean. As per Samoa’s Ocean Strategy, for the integrated management for a healthy and abundant future of Samoa’s ocean, it is recommended to convert 30% of Samoa’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) into a connected system of Marine Protected Area.
  4. Focus on creating green and blue jobs: A high priority for Samoa is to diversify Samoa’s agriculture and fisheries sector. Developing this key sector can unlock the country’s green and blue economy potential, particularly through the creation of sustainable employment opportunities for women and youth, aiding in COVID-19 pandemic recovery.
    The Revitalization, Expansion and Diversification of Agriculture and Fisheries (REDSAF) Project is one such effort to accelerate socio-economic recovery. The project seeks to create a more sustainable, resilient and inclusive agriculture and fisheries sector, capable of buffering the risks, including socio-economic setbacks, in the face of future crises.

    Some examples of new green blue jobs include (a) expansion of taro ethanol production at scale, (b) developing biodegradable and medical-grade face mask layers from crop waste and invasive species fibers to improve protection against airborne pathogenic organisms; (c) strengthen the capacity for sustainable and sustained sea grapes (limu) production; and (d) expand the Youth Koko Innovation Initiative under the UNDP Youth Employment Programme.

The most mature trends that are driving change across a wide range of goals are called Drivers or Change Drivers

They have a greater influence across all the well-being domains of economy, society, environment and culture and they also influence the emerging trends.

Drivers can be understood as a force that pushes change forward and shapes organizations, societies and markets. The main areas from which drivers emerge are new technological developments, government regulations and competition. For example, a government decision to support or tax some economic activity is a powerful driver that can shape an entire industry within a country.

Drivers identified from Stockholm+50:

  1. Actual visible impact of Climate Change such as coastal erosion, flooding, change in weather patterns have already made climate change a reality for Samoans. Adding to it, the biodiversity and the natural environment of Samoa face extreme pressure, and loss of some species of fish, coral, bird, and terrestrial species are likely without effective conservation measures. Samoa’s population already lives in a volatile environment, to which it has adapted, but climate change is likely to increase its variability, pose new threats, and place stress on livelihoods. These visible immediate threats are bringing urgency and are driving solutions for climate change at the community level. Samoans are aware of the risk of climate change and are open to embrace sustainable solutions.
  2. Policy changes are also the key drivers of change in Samoa. For example, the Waste (Plastic Ban) Management Regulation was officially endorsed by Cabinet of the Government of Samoa in 2018 to manage the plastic problem in Samoa with commitment to protect the country’s oceans and marine environment. This specific ban helped to prohibit the import, manufacture, export, sale, and distribution of plastic shopping bags, packing bags and straws effective from 30 January 2019.
  3. Availability of new forms of data to aid efforts on climate action allowing for both creating innovative solutions as well as measure progress. Several digital databases have been developed to drive climate adaptation in the Pacific such as the new online platform called the Commonwealth Blue Charter Ocean Funders Database. This database was set up by the Commonwealth Blue Charter organization which is an agreement by all Commonwealth countries to actively co-operate to solve ocean-related problems and meet commitments for sustainable ocean development. The overall aim of the database is to create a one-stop shop for blue economy financing.
    Another online database that is helping to drive change is the new SIDS Data Platform. This data platform is an innovative digital tool to provide SIDS policymakers, research institutions, UNDP country offices, and other development partners with access to updated, standardized, and comprehensive data. The platform features a database of over 4,000 country-level indicators compiled from 22 databases and research studies, a GIS portal with geospatial datasets from over 80 research studies and databases, a customizable version of the multidimensional vulnerability index (MVI) for SIDS, and novel machine learning models that fill in gaps in the data for advancing socio-economic and environmental analytics.

  4. And finally, funding commitments for Pacific Island and Territories to combat climate change is a significant driver to enable the Samoan government to take critical steps from climate change preparedness. Recently, there have been several funding commitments for Samoa. In 2022, the World Bank has made available a combined total of US$23.7 million (WST63 million) in grant funding to Samoa to boost support for its recovery from the pandemic. Samoa also received funding through the Climate Investment Fund to develop a strategic programme for climate resilience to support mainstreaming climate change into national development planning. Another investment includes a $30 million dollars in grants and near-zero interest loan to climate proof the vital West Coast Road and to implement a programme assisting 45,000 Samoans in coastal communities to adapt to climate change. Finally, in 2022, New Zealand has also said that they will contribute NZ$15 million as part of a new climate change partnership with Samoa to help it cope with climate change. So far according to the Green Climate Fund, approximately US$362 million has been approved for grants in the Pacific from funding mechanisms which include the Adaptation Fund and the Global Environment Facility, which is the largest funder of climate-related financing in the Pacific.


Although the consultations have concluded, the Stockholm+50 project continues to try and be an enabler of change as its report of recommendations has been submitted to the government for review. The Stockholm+50 within Samoa has been about hearing the different voices from people and to act on them. We believe this project will continue to drive change in Samoa and will strive to develop transformational ideas to help make significant positive environmental change within the region. 

Written by:
Pragya Mishra
Head of Experimentation, Accelerator Lab
Michael Noonan
Environment & Climate Change Support Officer