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Book review: UNEP: The First 40 Years – Stanley Johnson (2012)



The environmentalist Stanley Johnson’s latest book charts the United Nations Environment Programme’s progression over the four decades since its establishment in 1972 in captivating detail.

On December 15 1972, exactly six months after the now-historic United Nations Conference on the Human Environment took place in Stockholm, Sweden, the UN Environment Programme, or UNEP, was officially established. Building on the recommendations to come out of the June conference, the 27th UN General Assembly voted unanimously, 112-0, to create a new body that focused on the environment and conservation.

The decision was both significant and timely. In the same year as UNEP was created, The Ecologist magazine published its Blueprint for Survival manifesto and the Club of Rome thinktank released its seminal book, The Limits to Growth. Both were to become important texts for the environmental movement.

Charting in detail the beginnings and development of the organisation is the environmentalist and writer Stanley Johnson in UNEP: The First 40 Years, which is available to download for free from the UNEP website. He recalls how it progressed from a simple idea tabled in Stockholm in June 1972; to an official UN body approved in December of the same year; right through to the impact and legacy of the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summits, held two decades apart in 1992 and 2012.

Having spent time as a Conservative MEP and as vice-chairman of the European parliament’s environment committee, and with a collection of environmental publications and accolades to his name, Johnson displays almost unrivalled knowledge of UNEP in the book.

He dedicates chapters to some of the key issues the agency sought to address in its formative years, including marine pollution, ozone depletion, hazardous waste and desertification.

The author also talks about the 1988 formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose work on understanding climate science and future trends is still revered today. UNEP, alongside the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the International Council for Science (ICSU), had initially proposed creating an Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (AGGG). Johnson quotes UNEP’s atmospheric scientist Peter Usher, who says that this “panicked governments who were concerned that they would lose control of the assessment process”.

So, instead of the AGGG, the IPCC was formed as an intergovernmental body – as its name suggests – endorsed by the WMO and UNEP.

Two years later, UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher gave an impassioned speech on global warming and the threat it poses to potentially all of Earth’s inhabitants. She knew what she was talking about, Johnson writes.

What’s perhaps most interesting about UNEP: The First 40 Years is it reveals the considerable levels of understanding we have had about environmental issues for four decades and longer. Johnson quotes former UN secretary-general Kurt Waldheim in the opening chapter of the book. In his introductory address at the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, Waldheim said, “No crisis ever before has underlined to such an extent the interdependence of nations. The environment forces us to make the greatest leap into worldwide solidarity.”

While the rhetoric is indeed fascinating to read and some of the action, particularly on issues like ozone layer depletion, helped prevent environmental degradation, Johnson told Blue & Green Tomorrow in April that most actions were “of the ‘too little, too late’ variety”.

He added, however, “Environmental policies and programmes over the last 40 years have been aimed at holding back the deterioration of the environment and it is indeed possible that without some of these plans and actions, things might be even worse today than they actually are.”

UNEP: The First 40 Years offers a detailed overview of the work conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme in the 40 years after its formation in 2013, drawing in comments from a wide range of high ranking figures from its past.

The author looks back with nostalgic affection. Readers will struggle to find a more comprehensive, engaging and interesting account.

For details on how to purchase or download UNEP: The First 40 Years, visit the UNEP website

Further reading:

Stanley Johnson, environmentalist: a lifelong fight to diminish humanity’s negative footprint

‘Green economy’ achievable, says UN report

The six industries that are crucial to sustainable economic development

Books & Films

Book Review: Ubernomics




Step inside the next generation of economics, business strategy and investing.

In this radical business book, Barbara Gray makes it clear that all is not as it seems. Just when we think we know the rules of the road, we find we have hit the age of economic abundance—and surprises await.

Gray navigates us through this journey with great insight and acuity, sharing stories and case studies about a new breed of “rebel with a cause” companies such as Starbucks, LinkedIn, Airbnb, and Uber, whose founders relish disruption of the status quo. Taking us through the highlights of her research, Gray reveals her discovery of the next generation of business strategy for companies looking to create economic abundance and rise above the competition.

Barbara Gray is a former top-ranked sell-side equity analyst and the founder of Brady Capital Research Inc., a leading-edge research and strategy consulting firm. She has more than fifteen years of sell-side equity research experience in Canada and the United States covering a wide range of sectors. Barbara has a Bachelor of Commerce (Finance) from the University of British Columbia (1993) and earned her Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation in 1997. She lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and two sons.


Ubernomics is über-needed by any organization that wants to be around in the next five years. Read it and you’ll be here for fifty–and more! Barbara Gray is half brilliant analyst and half seer. The result is a book that is both crystal clear and a crystal ball.”
–Joey Reiman, Chairman, BrightHouse and Managing Director, The Boston Consulting Group

“Barbara is one of the most astute and forward-looking analysts who covered lululemon. Ubernomics gave me a framework to think about the sharing economy capital structure and the value that can be gained from that.”
–Christine Day, CEO, Luvo (former CEO, lululemon)

“Barbara’s overall analysis centering on the three new values of advocacy, connection and collaboration is very powerful. And the examples, both of firms born in the new economy and others trying to adapt to it, are fascinating.”
–Jean-Claude Larreche, Professor of Marketing, INSEAD, and author of The Momentum Effect


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Books & Films

Book Review: Business as an Instrument for Societal Change




Business as an Instrument for Societal Change: In Conversation with the Dalai Lama is the result of two decades of research and dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other leaders in business, government, science and education. Author Sander Tideman, a lawyer and banker who has maintained a friendship with the Dalai Lama over all these years, presents a practical framework and methodology to develop a new kind of leadership – one fit to repurpose the business world and tackle escalating social, economic and environmental needs.

The Dalai Lama rarely speaks directly on the topics of business, leadership and economics. Yet in the dialogues recounted here, his wisdom – combined with key insights from business and public leaders – creates a unified shift towards a consciousness of interconnectedness, offering profound insights for practitioners and general readers alike.

Tideman unites the scientific worldviews of physics, neuroscience and economics with the positive psychology of human relationships, and ancient spiritual wisdom, to formulate practical business leadership solutions. At the heart of this book lies the journey to discover our shared purpose. This ignites new sources of value creation for the organisation, customers and society, which Tideman terms ‘triple value’.  We can achieve triple value by aligning societal and business needs, based on the fundamental reality of interconnection.

Business as an Instrument for Societal Change: In Conversation with the Dalai Lama is a readable and intelligent exploration of how leaders can actually help to shape a sustainable global economy by embracing innate human and humane behaviour. It is also Tideman’s fascinating personal journey, which brought him to question the underlying motivations and goals of business leadership and to seek a new paradigm for a more sustainable approach. Reflecting Tideman’s sharp perceptions and infused with the Dalai Lama’s unmistakable joy, this book has the power to change your way of thinking.


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