UN Conference on the Human Environment

This article uses the 1972 Stockholm United Nations Conference on the Human Environment as a starting point for its discussion on environmental and human rights. This is the whole declaration made at that conference, this page also includes a link to a narrative of all 26 Principles. What did Principle I of the Stockholm Declaration state? How does this Principle cross over into human rights?

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, 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.

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



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. Preparations for the conference were extensive, lasting 4 years, including 114 governments, and costing over $30,000,000.


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 as it was not a full member of the UN.

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.

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.


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.

Principles of the Stockholm Declaration:

  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.

The Stockholm Conference motivated countries around the world to monitor environmental conditions as well as to create environmental ministries and agencies. 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. 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 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.

Source: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Conference_on_the_Human_Environment
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Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2021, 1:53 PM