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Stockholm Conference (United Nations Conference on the Human Environment)

This Post has been written by Kabeer Kalwani, a first year law student from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.


 In response to the growing environmental movement of the 1960s, many nations began to take actions to protect the environment within their borders. By the early 1970s, however, governments began to realize that pollution did not stop at their borders. International consensus and cooperation were required to tackle environmental issues, which affected the entire world.

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) was convened to address issues concerning the environment and sustainable development. UNCHE, also known as the Stockholm Conference, linked environmental protection with sustainable development. The Stockholm Conference also produced concrete ideas on how governments could work together to preserve the environment. The concepts and plans developed by the Stockholm Conference have shaped every international conference and treaty on the environment over the last 35 years.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife, and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment.

Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) can lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and damages to the central and peripheral nervous systems.

Given their long range transport, no one government acting alone can protect its citizens or its environment from POPs.

In response to this global problem, the Stockholm Convention, which was adopted in 2001 and entered into force in 2004, requires its parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment.


 As set out in Article 1, the objective of the Stockholm Convention is to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE), held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972, was the first major international conference on the environment. The United Nations General Assembly convened the UNCHE at the request of the Swedish government. Representatives from 113 nations and over 400 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) attended the Stockholm Conference.

The Declaration of the Conference stated that every human has the right to enjoy a clean and healthy environment. With this right, however, comes the responsibility to preserve the environment for future generations. The document noted that humans must properly manage wildlife and their ecosystems to ensure their continued survival, and it sought an end to the discharge of pollution into the environment. The declaration also called on industrialized nations to provide financial and technological assistance to developing nations to enable them to develop their economies in an environmentally responsible manner.

The declaration was the first major international document to recognize that both developing and industrialized economies contribute to environmental problems, and it noted that most environmental problems in developing economies occur because of underdevelopment.

Poverty in developing nations leads to poor health, poor sanitation, and release of toxic chemicals. These conditions release harmful human, animal, and chemical products into the environment. Developing economies also often seek advancement of the economy with little regard for environmental regulation. Industrialized nations contribute to environmental problems through technological advancements and industrialization. Energy production, automobile emissions, and factory production release greenhouse gases and other chemicals into the environment.

Whereas the Declaration of the Convention contained many lofty ideals, the action plan of

the Stockholm Conference contained 109 specific recommendations for achieving these goals. The action plan presented 69 recommendations on how governments, intergovernmental agencies, and NGOs could work together to implement environmental protection strategies.

It also called for establishing international standards for pollutants after scientific research into the effect of certain pollutants on the environment. The action plan then recommended the creation of a network of national and international pollution monitoring agencies. The United Nations founded the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972 to coordinate its environmental initiatives and to provide support to developing nations on environmental issues.

Impacts and Issues

The objectives and action plans produced by the Stockholm Conference have inspired every subsequent international conference on the environment. In 1983, the United Nations convened the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), also called the Brundtland Commission. The Brundtland Commission discussed and devised international and national strategies for protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development.

The Stockholm Conference also laid the foundation for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), commonly called the Earth Summit. In June 1992, representatives from 172 nations convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the unprecedented Earth Summit, which included 108 heads of state, 2,400 representatives from various

non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and nearly 10,000 journalists. An additional 17,000 NGO representatives attended a parallel NGO forum that provided recommendations to the Earth Summit.6

The massive interest and participation in the Earth Summit indicated a shift in global attitudes toward the environment. Scientific evidence gathered in the second half of the twentieth century indicated that human activity affected the environment and climate. The scientific evidence also revealed that pollution and depletion of natural resources that occurred in one country could have a profound effect on the environment of other nations or even the entire planet.

Earth Summit 1992 produced two key documents: Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Earth Summit 1992 also produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which seeks to combat global climate change by reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Stockholm Conference also inspired the Kyoto Protocol, one of the best known and

far-reaching plans undertaken by the UNFCCC. The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty that seeks to stabilize greenhouse-gas emissions by committing countries to specific greenhouse-gas emissions goals. The Kyoto Protocol, which went into effect in February 2005, requires developed signatory countries to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions to 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.

The Stockholm Declaration 1972 and India

The UN Conference on Human Environment and Development held at Stockholm and ‘Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment’ 1972 has the significant impact on India Environment Law. It is considered as magna carta of Environmental law and it has same parallel significance as Universal Declaration on the Human Right, 1948. In this conference, twenty-six principles were laid down.

After the Stockholm Conference, 1972, Government of India brought the 42nd amendment in the Constitution and incorporated Article 48A and Article 51A (g). Article 48A comes under the part IV ‘Directive Principle of State Policy’, and under this Article the states are under the ‘active obligation’ that it shall endeavour to protect and impose the environment. Whereas Article 51A (g) states the citizen has the duty to protect and improve the environment. Article 51A (g) is not law and, a fortiori, not supreme law. Read as below –

“It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.”

Stockholm Conference, 1972 also has the impact on the environment related laws. After 1972, India enacted the Water Act 1976, Air Act 1981, Environment Protection Act, 1986, various policies and notification

Framework and Recommendations of the Conference

General Framework of the Conference:

 The general framework of the conference includes human settlements and environmental quality.

(a)    Problems and Management of Human Settlements:

Planning and management of human settlements for environmental quality, including problems of housing, transitional settlements, slums, family planning, malnutrition, and noise.

(b)  Natural Resources Management:

Environmental aspects of natural resources management, including the setting up of genetic banks of plants and animals, forests and wild life, and the question of development of water, mineral, and energy resources with least damage to the environment.

(c)  Pollution Control Measures:

Identification and control of pollutants of broad international significance, including the establishment of limits for common air and water contaminants, pollution research and efficient pollution control technology.

(d)  Social and Cultural Aspects:

Educational, informational, social and cultural aspects of environmental issues, including public and specialized technical education.

(e)  Development and Environment:

Development and environment which includes, inter alia, the possibility of pollution reduction by switching over to natural materials from synthetics.

Principles and Recommendations of the Conference

 The Stockholm Declaration on Environment comprises a proclamation of 26 principles and submission of recommendations.

Some important principles

Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well being and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generation.

(1)  Management of Natural Resources:

The natural resources of the earth, including the air, water, land, flora and fauna and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, must be safeguarded for the benefit of present and future generations through careful planning or management as appropriate.

(b)  Renewable Resources:

The capacity of the earth to produce vital renewable resources must be maintained and, wherever practicable, restored or improved.

(2)  Conservation of Wildlife:

Man has a special responsibility to safeguard and wisely manage the heritage of wildlife and its habitat, which are now gravely imperiled by a combination of adverse factors. Nature conservation, including wildlife, must therefore receive importance in planning for economic development.

(3)  Population Policy:

Demographic policies should be applied, where the rate of population growth or excessive population concentrations are likely to have adverse effects on the environment or development.

(4)  Environment and Development:

In order to achieve a more rational management of resources and thus to improve the environment, States should adopt an integrated and coordinated approach to their development planning so as to ensure that development is compatible with the need to protect and improve the human environment.

The environmental policies of all States should enhance and not adversely affect the present or future development potential of developing countries, nor should they hamper the attainment of better living conditions of all.

(5)  Pollution Control:

States shall take all possible steps to prevent pollution of the seas by substances that are liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and marine life, to damage amenities or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea. Science and technology must be applied to the identification, avoidance and control of environmental risks and the solution of environmental problems and for the common good of mankind.

(6)  Resource Planning:

Resource should be made available to preserve and improve the environment, taking into account the requirements of developing countries and any costs which may emanate from their incorporating environmental safeguards into their development planning and the need for making available to them additional international technical and financial assistance for this purpose.


 The world is not environmentally uniform. Nations differ in their environmental resources, in terns of quality and quantity. In view of this, no single solution works everywhere to protect ecology. The environmental inequalities in the world are paralleled by economic ones, which are major obstacles to satisfy the basic human needs, especially in developing countries, and  a barrier to the harmonious development of mankind. The economic development now enjoyed by the developed countries was sometimes achieved without due regard to the preservation of human environment, and today they are considered as the champions of human rights protectors. However, it is rightly pointed out that the general principles and prescriptions of international law are applicable to the problems of transnational pollution and environmental degradation. Therefore, the global environment has been adequately protected through Local, Regional, National and International laws, Policies, Treaties and Conventions and maintained the ecological balance particularly in India.

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