Stockholm 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment: World Environment Day 2022

It became the first UN conference which had the word environment in its title.

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 09 June 2022

Climate change and its impacts were rarely discussed 50 years ago. Even words such as environment and sustainable development were rarely uttered in the negotiation assemblies of the United Nations. This changed after the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972.
The decade leading up to the conference had witnessed rapid biodegradation of the physical environment.
Air pollution that led to the “pea soup” fog had killed 750 people in London in 1962. A coal mine waste pile collapsed in Wales in 1967 killing 116 children and 28 adults. Methyl Mercury pollution in Japan’s city of Minamata affected 2,265 people and eventually killed them.
Drought had ravaged the Sahel region of Africa. There were many other such instances. In 1967, Sweden proposed a United Nations Conference on Human Environment. According to political scientist Prof Pamela Chasek, Sweden wanted “a serious and substantive discussion at the global level environmental problems".
In 1968, the UN General Assembly agreed to organise such a conference in the year 1972. In 1969, the UN decided that Sweden’s capital Stockholm, would be the venue. The Stockholm Conference took place from June 5 to 16, 1972 and 113 UN member states attended it.
While the communist Eastern Block led by Russia participated in the preparatory meetings for the conference, it boycotted the actual event because East Germany was not allowed to participate, whereas West Germany was. Nevertheless, for the first time in the history of UN, environmental concerns took centre stage beyond politics and economics.
The Stockholm Conference will be remembered for many firsts. It became the first UN conference which had the word environment in its title. For the first time, the best scientific minds of the world came together to prepare the Framework for the Conference, which became the first state of the environment report.
The title of this report “Only One Earth” became the motto of not just the conference but many subsequent environmental struggles. For the first time, civil society participation was actively encouraged in a UN event.
It was also here for the first time that developing countries asserted that they had the right to grow and develop, while developed countries were blamed for the pollution and environmental degradation that the world was witnessing.
India in this conference also became the champion for the developing world. Former Prime Minister of India, the late Indira Gandhi was the only foreign head of state to attend the conference.  

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