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1972 Stockholm Conference

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Pre-Rio activities: the 1972 Stockholm conference, and its result: UNEP and its activities 1. Definition of sustainable development
“Environmental, economic and social well-being for today and tomorrow”
Sustainable development has been defined in many ways, but the most frequently quoted definition is from Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report:
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: * the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and * the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs."
All definitions of sustainable development require that we see the world as a system—a system that connects space; and a system that connects time.
When you think of the world as a system over space, you grow to understand that air pollution from North America affects air quality in Asia, and that pesticides sprayed in Argentina could harm fish stocks off the coast of Australia.
And when you think of the world as a system over time, you start to realize that the decisions our grandparents made about how to farm the land continue to affect agricultural practice today; and the economic policies we endorse today will have an impact on urban poverty when our children are adults. 2. Pre-Rio activities: The 1972 Stockholm Conference
‘One of our prominent responsibilities in this conference is to issue an international declaration on the human environment; a document with no binding legislative imperatives, but — we hope — with moral authority, that will inspire in the hearts of men the desire to live in harmony with each other, and with their environment.’
Professor Mostafa K. Tolba, Head of the Egyptian delegation to the Stockholm Conference, UNEP Executive Director 1975–93
The world of 1972 was very different from that of today. The Cold War still divided many of the world’s most industrialized nations, the period of colonization had not yet ended and, although e-mail had just been invented (Campbell 1998), it was to be more than two decades before its use became widespread. The personal computer did not exist, global warming had only just been mentioned for the first time (SCEP 1970), and the threat to the ozone layer was seen as coming mainly from a large fleet of supersonic airliners that was never to materialize. Although transnational corporations existed and were becoming increasingly powerful, the concept of globalization was still 20 years away. In South Africa, apartheid still held sway and in Europe the Berlin Wall stood firm.
The world of the early 1970s was thus fiercely polarized, and in many different ways. Against this backdrop, it was surprising that the idea of an international conference on the environment should even be broached (by Sweden, in 1968); it was even more surprising that one should actually take place (in Stockholm, in 1972); and it was astonishing that such a conference could give rise to what later became known as the ‘Stockholm spirit of compromise’ in which representatives of developed and developing countries found ways of accommodating each other’s strongly divergent views. The conference was hosted by Sweden following severe damage to thousands of Sweden’s lakes from acid rain falling as a result of severe air pollution in Western Europe.
The 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment was one of the first mega conferences to deal with questions of the environment and development at a global scale. This conference raised a generation's awareness of an issue hitherto little talked about, the global environment.
The Conference was attended by 113 delegates and two heads of state (Olaf Palme of Sweden and Indira Gandhi of India). The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, was the event that turned the environment into a major issue at the international level. The conference drew together both developed and developing countries, but the former Soviet Union and most of its allies did not attend.
The Stockholm conference secured a permanent place for the environment on the world's agenda and led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The conference and its aftermath made known the international nature of the environment and introduced the idea of the relationship between development and the environment. It has been said that the only way to unite the countries of the world is for them to face a common enemy; perhaps environmental degradation will be that enemy.

3.1. Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment
One of the main outcomes of the Stockholm Conference was the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, of 26 Principles and an Action Plan of 109 recommendations. A few specific targets were set — a 10-year moratorium on commercial whaling, prevention of deliberate oil discharges at sea by 1975 and a report by 1975 on energy uses. The Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment and Principles constituted the first body of ‘soft law’ in international environmental affairs.
The set of 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
It is easy to claim that many of the major environmental milestones of the 1970s followed directly from Stockholm. It is important to remember, however, that Stockholm was itself a reflection of the mood of the times, or at least of the views of many in the West. That said, it is still instructive to itemize some of the major changes that followed Stockholm. * Stockholm articulated the right of people to live ‘in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being’. Since then, a number of organizations, including the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and about 50 governments worldwide, have adopted instruments or national constitutions that recognize the environment as a fundamental human right (Chenje, MohamedKaterere and Ncube 1996). * Much national legislation on the environment followed Stockholm. During 1971-75, 31 major national environmental laws were passed in countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), compared to just 4 during 1956-60, 10 during 1960-65 and 18 during 1966-70 (Long 2000). * The environment entered or was brought much nearer the top of many regional and national agendas. For example, before Stockholm there were only about 10 ministries of environment; by 1982 some 110 countries had such ministries or departments (Clarke and Timberlake 1982).

3.2. UNEP and its activities
”Sustainable development is not a choice but an imperative and the only course possible in a 21st century world of rising populations and environmental risks.”
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General & UNEP Executive Director
The conference also established the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as ‘the environmental conscience of the UN system, which leads the efforts of the United Nations family on behalf of the global environment. Its current priorities are environmental aspects of disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, harmful substances, resource efficiency, and climate change.
The Stockholm Conference recommended the creation of a small secretariat in the United Nations as a focal point for environmental action and coordination within the UN system. This was established later in 1972 under the name of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and was headed by an executive director whose responsibilities included: * providing support to UNEP’s Governing Council; * coordinating environmental programmes within the United Nations system; * advising on the formulation and implementation of environmental programmes; * securing the cooperation of scientific and other professional communities from all parts of the world; * advising on international cooperation in the field of the environment; and * submitting proposals on medium and long-range planning for United Nations programmes in the environment field.
UNEP’s mission today is to ‘Provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations’.

Sources: 1. World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987 p. 43. 2. 3. Developing Countries and Global Environmental Governance: From Contestation to Participation to Engagement, Clarke and Timberlake, International Institute for Environment and Development (London), 1982 4. International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Eds. Rob Kitchin and Nigel Thrift. Elsevier. 5.…...

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