United Nations Conference on the Human Environment

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The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, Sweden, from June 5–16 in 1972.


When the United Nations General Assembly decided to convene the 1972 Stockholm Conference, taking up the offer of the Government of Sweden to host it, [1] UN Secretary-General U Thant invited Maurice Strong to lead it as Secretary-General of the Conference, as the Canadian diplomat (under Pierre Trudeau) had initiated and already worked for over two years on the project. [2] [3]

The United Nations Environment Programme, or UNEP, was created as a result of this conference. [4]


Sweden first suggested to the United Nations Economic and Social Council ECOSOC in 1968 the idea of having a UN conference to focus on human interactions with the environment. ECOSOC passed resolution 1346 supporting the idea. General Assembly Resolution 2398 in 1969 decided to convene a conference in 1972 and mandated a set of reports from the UN secretary-general suggesting that the conference focus on "stimulating and providing guidelines for action by national government and international organizations" facing environmental issues. [5] Preparations for the conference were extensive, lasting 4 years, including 114 governments, and costing over $30,000,000. [6]

Issues at the Conference

The Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact nations boycotted the conference due to the lack of inclusion of East Germany, which was not allowed to participate. Neither East or West Germany were members of the UN at that time, as they had not yet accepted each other as states (which they agreed upon later by signing Basic Treaty in December 1972. [6] [7]

The conference was not welcomed by countries like Britain, the US, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and France, which formed the so-called Brussels Group and attempted to stifle the impact of the conference. [8]

At the conference itself, divisions between developed and developing countries began to emerge. The Chinese delegation proved hostile to the United States at the conference, issuing a 17-point memorandum condemning United States policies in Indochina, as well as around the world. This stance emboldened other developing countries, which made up 70 of the 122 countries attending. Multiple countries including Pakistan, Peru, and Chile issued statements that were anti-colonial in nature, further worrying the United States delegation. So harsh was the criticism that Rogers Morton, at that time secretary of the interior, remarked "I wish the Russians were here", to divert the attention of the Chinese criticisms. [7] China being a new member of the United Nations didnt take part in the preparational talks. To include their views they reopened at the conference the declaration, which was negotiated at the preparational talks, introducing text to counter language of the declaration regarding population as a threat to the environment and cause of its degradation. [9]

In 1972, environmental governance was not seen as an international priority, particularly for the Global South. Developing nations supported its creation of the UNEP, not because they supported environmental governance, but because of its headquarters' location in Nairobi, Kenya, as the UNEP would be the first UN agency to be based in a developing country. [4]

Stockholm Declaration

The meeting agreed upon a Declaration containing 26 principles concerning the environment and development; an Action Plan with 109 recommendations, and a Resolution. [10]

Principles of the Stockholm Declaration: [11]

  1. Human rights must be asserted, apartheid and colonialism condemned
  2. Natural resources must be safeguarded
  3. The Earth's capacity to produce renewable resources must be maintained
  4. Wildlife must be safeguarded
  5. Non-renewable resources must be shared and not exhausted
  6. Pollution must not exceed the environment's capacity to clean itself
  7. Damaging oceanic pollution must be prevented
  8. Development is needed to improve the environment
  9. Developing countries therefore need assistance
  10. Developing countries need reasonable prices for exports to carry out environmental management
  11. Environment policy must not hamper development
  12. Developing countries need money to develop environmental safeguards
  13. Integrated development planning is needed
  14. Rational planning should resolve conflicts between environment and development
  15. Human settlements must be planned to eliminate environmental problems
  16. Governments should plan their own appropriate population policies
  17. National institutions must plan development of states' natural resources
  18. Science and technology must be used to improve the environment
  19. Environmental education is essential
  20. Environmental research must be promoted, particularly in developing countries
  21. States may exploit their resources as they wish but must not endanger others
  22. Compensation is due to states thus endangered
  23. Each nation must establish its own standards
  24. There must be cooperation on international issues
  25. International organizations should help to improve the environment
  26. Weapons of mass destruction must be eliminated

One of the seminal issues that emerged from the conference is the recognition for poverty alleviation for protecting the environment. The Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in her seminal speech in the conference brought forward the connection between ecological management and poverty alleviation. [12]

The Stockholm Conference motivated countries around the world to monitor environmental conditions as well as to create environmental ministries and agencies. [13] [14] Despite these institutional accomplishments, including the establishment of UNEP, the failure to implement most of its action programme has prompted the UN to have follow-up conferences. [15] The succeeding United Nations Conference on Environment and Development convened in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (the Rio Earth Summit), the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) all take their starting point in the declaration of the Stockholm Conference.

Some argue [16] that this conference, and more importantly the scientific conferences preceding it, had a real impact on the environmental policies of the European Community (that later became the European Union). For example, in 1973, the EU created the Environmental and Consumer Protection Directorate, and composed the first Environmental Action Program. Such increased interest and research collaboration arguably paved the way for further understanding of global warming, which has led to such agreements as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, and has given a foundation of modern environmentalism.

See also

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  1. Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, 5-16 June 1972, chapter 6, section 5, accessed 14 September 2019
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 17, 2013. Retrieved September 17, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. Strong, Maurice; Introduction by Kofi Annan (2001). Where on Earth are We Going? (Reprint ed.). New York, London: Texere. pp. 120–136. ISBN   1-58799-092-X.
  4. 1 2 Najam, Adil (2005). "Developing Countries and Global Environmental Governance: From Contestation to Participation to Engagement". International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics. 5 (3): 303–321. doi:10.1007/s10784-005-3807-6. ISSN   1567-9764. S2CID   16813351.
  5. DeSombre, Elizabeth (2006). Global Environmental Institutions. Rutledge. pp. 22–23.
  6. 1 2 Astrachan, Anthony (March 17, 1972). "Goals for Environment Talks Listed". The Washington Post, Times Herald. p. A20.
  7. 1 2 Sterling, Claire (June 10, 1972). "Chinese Rip U.S. At Parley". The Washington Post, Times Herald. p. A1.
  8. Hamer, Mick (February 26, 2019). "Plot to undermine global pollution controls revealed". New Scientist. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  9. "Stockholm 1972: The start of China's environmental journey". China Dialogue. September 23, 2021. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  10. John Baylis, Steve Smith. 2005. The Globalization of World Politics (3rd ed). Oxford. Oxford University Press. pp. 454–455
  11. Source: Clarke and Timberlake 1982
  12. Venkat, Vidya. "Indira Gandhi, the environmentalist". The Hindu. Archived from the original on May 7, 2018. Retrieved May 21, 2017.
  13. John W. Meyer, David John Frank, Ann Hironaka, Evan Schofer and Nancy Brandon Tuma 1997, The structuring of a world environmental regime. International Organization 51:623–651
  14. Henrik Selin and Björn-Ola Linnér (2005) "The quest for global sustainability: international efforts on linking environment and development", WP 5, Science, Environment and Development Group, Center for International Development, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  15. Björn-Ola Linnér and Henrik Selin, Henrik (2013). The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development: Forty Years in the Making. Environment & Planning. C: Government and Policy. 31(6):971-987.
  16. Björn-Ola Linnér and Henrik Selin The Thirty Year Quest for Sustainability: The Legacy of the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment, Paper presented at Annual Convention of International Studies Association, Portland, Oregon, USA, February 25 – March 1, 2003, as part of the panel “Institutions and the Production of Knowledge for Environmental Governance” (co-author Henrik Selin).p. 3

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