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The Cocoyoc Declaration

How It All Began: Global Efforts on Sustainable

Development from Stockholm to Rio

Björn-Ola Linnér

Department of Water and Environmental Studies

Linköping UniversitySweden


Henrik Selin

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Paper presented at 6th Nordic Conference on Environmental Social Sciences, Åbo, Finland, June 12-14, 2003, as part of the panel “Johannesburg: A First Anniversary”


The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg was the latest forum for assessing global, regional and local progress on achieving sustainable development, as well as setting priorities for continued efforts. The grand, but elusive, concept of sustainable development in which environmental considerations are integrated with strives for social and economic development received widespread international attention through the launching of the World Conservation Strategy in 1980 and the presentation of the report Our Common Future in 1987 (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). However, efforts to simultaneously achieve environmental protection and social and economic development started long before the concept of sustainable development gained prominence in the 1980s (Worster, 1994).

The 1945 UN Charter set out to promote global peace and stability and improve living conditions for all people. However, the UN Charter was silent on environmental issues, which were not deemed to be important enough in 1945 to warrant inclusion in the Charter. As indications of a widespread ecological crisis became apparent in the 1960s, voices were raised for expanding UN activities into the environmental field as a crucial means for fulfilling the intentions of the Charter. The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in Stockholm was the first international political attempt to explore connections between environmental protection and social and economic development. Out of this effort emerged many of the core issues and themes ofongoing debate and cooperation on sustainable development, although there have been important developments over the past thirty years.

This paper studies the origin of linking environment and development in the UN system.1 It begins by exploring how international efforts on nature
conservation in the early 1900s were expanded into a broader effort on environment and development in the 1960s. This is followed by an examination of the preparations for and holding of the Stockholm conference as the first major global political attempt to simultaneously deal with environment and development issues. The next section discusses seven ways in which the Stockholm conference has had lasting impacts on international and national activities. The final section of the paper examines major efforts on environment and development after the Stockholm conference up to the decision to hold the UnitedNations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

From nature conservation to environment and development

The 1972 Stockholm conference was the first major international political meeting having the word “environment” in its title. However, the Stockholm conference was not the first international action on issues relating to the natural environment. Efforts on international nature conservation as early as in the first decades of the twentieth century resulted in a series of regional agreements on specific species such as North Pacific fur seals and musk ox in Greenland. Several European colonial powers also imposed conservation regulations in their foreign colonies and territories. In addition, minor international measures were taken shortly before World War II on pollution from shipping (Hayden, 1942; Caldwell, 1996, p49-51; Frank et al., 2000, p98).

The first major UN conference on natural resources, the 1949 United Nations Scientific Conference on Conservation and Utilization of Natural Resources, discussed how economic utilization could be combined with ecologically sound management of natural resources. In the 1950s and 1960s, technological and scientific advancements led to an increased influence of technology and science on conservation efforts. Large science programs such as the International Biological Program and the Man and the Biosphere program were launched to study global ecological processes (Worthington, 1975; Blair, 1979; Worster, 1994). Numerous researchers and activists warning of impending dangers of industrial and agricultural developments gained public attention in the 1960s, such as Rachel Carson, who wrote the best-selling Silent Spring (1962), and Paul Ehrlich, who wrote The Population Bomb (1967).

n 1967, the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) identified appropriate topics including the environment for future UN sponsored conferences. Citing this comment made by UNSCEAR, Sweden proposed to the UN General Assembly in December 1967 that the UN should hold a political action-oriented environmental conference in response to growing scientific and public concern about quickly accelerating ecological deterioration (Åström, 1992, p158). The Swedish proposal, however, received only limited interest. Trying to push the proposal forward, Sweden suggested to Secretary-General U Thant on May 20, 1968, that the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) during its summer session should include on the agenda the issue of a global environmental political conference (Åström, 1968). As a result of discussions during its summer meeting, ECOSOC recommended that the General Assembly should consider the need for a global environmental conference during its session later in the fall.

Discussions were held in the General Assembly in late 1968. The United
States supported the conference proposal (Department of State, 1972, p5). Most Western European countries also backed the proposal, or at least did not speak out against it, but France and the United Kingdom were openly skeptical (Åström, 1992). France and the U.K. argued that there was no great need for UN political action on the environment and that a conference would be too expensive for the UN system in comparison to its usefulness. Some French and British representatives also expressed fears that environment issues would be used by developing countries to try to extract financial support, in particular from former colonial powers such as France and the United Kingdom. Both countries, however, gradually adopted a more positive stand, and came to support the general idea of a conference as conference preparations preceded.

The Soviet Union and other members of the East-bloc joined the U.S. in supporting the Swedish initiative. Both Soviet and U.S. representatives also called for specific East-West cooperation on environmental issues (Caldwell, 1996, p57). Many influential developing countries within the Group of 77, however, expressed concern that a global environmental conference would turn out to be “a rich man’s show”
(Engfeldt, 1973, pp401-402). For example, Brazil, India and Algeria feared that the conference agenda would be dictated by the interests of the global North and that environmental issues would be used by industrializing countries to restrict development of the global South. Developing countries also strongly argued for “additionality” — that resources spent on the environment should be additional to those resources already identified for the development assistance target of one percent of the gross national product in the UN Second Development Decade. That is, funding for environmental issues should be additional to funds committed for development assistance (Campbell, 1973,
p147-148; Caldwell, 1996, pp73-74 and 77).

Despite concerns raised by both industrialized and developing countries, the General Assembly decided unanimously on December 3, 1968, that the UN Conference on the Human Environment should be held in 1972. The purpose of the conference was decided to be three-fold: i) to direct the attention of governments and public opinion to the importance and urgent character of environmental problems; ii) to identify aspects of the problems that could only or most suitably be solved through international cooperation; and iii) to give ongoing and planned activities a common basis and direction
(Jordbruksdepartementet, 1972, pp6-7). In May 1969, Sweden offered to host the conference.
The proposal was accepted by the General Assembly in December 1969. Conference dates were set to 5-16 June 1972.

The Stockholm conference was not assigned any formal decision making capability by the General Assembly. All decisions that were taken at Stockholm had to be formally adopted by the General Assembly after the conference. A small advisory
intergovernmental committee was set up to aid the Secretary-General and work together with the conference secretariat. The advisory committee held four two-week meetings in between
March 1970 and March 1972. At these meetings, the committee planned the conference agenda and drafted decisions. An important part of the conference preparations was the completion
of more than 80 national reports and 35 case studies on specific environmental problems in 1971-72 that were used to set the conference agenda. The reports contained information about domestic environmental problems, current and planned domestic abatement measures, and environmental issues that countries believed required multilateral attention.

During the conference preparations, important conflicts became visible. Both the United States and the East-bloc participated in the conference preparations.
However, the participation of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) at the Stockholm conference caused discord (Rowland, 1973, p.39). Western countries insisted on the application of the “Vienna formula” which meant that the Stockholm conference would only be open to members of the UN or any of its specialized agencies.
This meant that East Germany would be excluded from the Stockholm conference, but that the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), as a member of UNESCO and the World Health
Organization (WHO), could attend the conference. In contrast, the East-bloc argued that that the environment was a global issue that transcended all states borders and all countries should be allowed to take part in the conference. During a vote in the UN
General Assembly in December 1971 it was decided that the Stockholm conference would be open only to members of the UN or any of its specialized agencies, which led to a boycott
of the Stockholm conference by the Soviet Union and most members of the East-bloc.

In many ways, the conflict between the global North and the global South posed an ever greater challenge than the East-West issue (Strong, 2001, pp123-130).
Industrialized countries that in national reports and meetings of the preparatory committee pushed the environmental agenda of transboundary air and water pollution, such as Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States, argued that the origins of environmental problems were fundamentally the same in all countries irrespective of level of industrialization or economic system (Engfeldt, 1973, p 402). In addition, they proposed that it was in fact the poorest countries who stood to gain the most from environmental protection and improvement, and that the UN was the best forum for developing countries to make their voices heard. International cooperation could help developing countries to avoid many of the costly mistakes of industrialization and
economic development made earlier by industrialized countries.

In contrast, many developing countries argued that environmental
problems relating to air and water pollution were predominantly caused by the industrialized countries, and that the costs for abating them should consequently be born exclusively by these countries (Bäckstrand, 1971, p16; Campbell, 1973, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1972, p36).

Brazil and India, among others, continued to stress that environmental concerns of the global North should not be used as an excuse to impose development restrictions on the global South, which should be given the same opportunity for economic growth as industrialized countries had already enjoyed.
Developing countries in their national reports stressed how environmental problems of local land and water use were intimately tied to issues relating to poverty eradication and development, calling for increased financial and technical assistance from the global North to address these issues (Country Reports to UNCHE).
Trying to address the concerns of many developing countries on issues
relating to environment and development, a panel of 27 experts, many of the originally form the South, gathered in the small mountain village Founex in Switzerland in June 1971.
The Founex group discussed how developing countries could respond to growing environmental concerns in industrialized countries without being held back in their own development, and
possibly even turn it in to their own advantage. This meeting resulted in the Founex Report on Development and Environment (Rambach,

The Founex report tried to enforce the idea that industrial growth, even at the cost of some environmental degradation, is good for the environment in
the long run. The Founex group strongly believed that continued development was “the only answer to many of the environmental problems” of developing countries. However, developing countries could not afford to neglect environmental problems and regard nature as a free resource. Economic and social planning had to be integrated with environmental considerations (Rambach, 1972, p22).

The Founex group hoped that a growing global concern for the environment could lead to a willingness to fight poverty: “An emerging understanding of the indivisibly of the earth’s natural systems on the part of the rich nations could help strengthen the view of a human family, and even encourage an increase in aid to poor nations’ efforts to improve and protect their part the global household” (Rambach, 1972, p31). At the same time, the Founex group expressed fears that the introduction of “rigorous environmental standards” for the manufacturing of products by industrialized countries could give rise to “neo-protectionism.” The group argued that consumer concerns should be limited to the environmental effects of the
products themselves and their use: “When the concern spreads from the quality of a product to the environment in which such a product was produced, the alarm bells should ring all over the world, for it would be the beginning of the worst form of
protectionism” (Rambach, 1972, p31).

The Founex group hoped that the Stockholm conference would emphasize that industrialized countries should not insist on unrealistic environmental standards when assessing development projects. In addition to discussing the need for creating a fund that would finance environmental efforts in developing countries, the Founex group particularly considered one major issue at length: the “opportunity” for replacing polluting industries from the global
North to the global South. The Founex group predicted that enforcement of more rigorous environmental standards in developed countries would raise the cost of production in these
countries. This would, according to the Founex group, open up an opportunity for the poorer countries to attract these industries. These industries, they argued, would not be
too polluting in a developing country that did not have so much environmental pollution already. While it was believed that such re-location had to be done with some sensitivity, the group dismissed objections that it would be morally wrong to export polluting industries to developing countries as “extreme” (Rambach, 1972, p32).
Of 132 UN member states, 113 attended the Stockholm conference. The boycott by the Soviet Union and most other East-block countries was a set-back, but it did not deal a serious blow to the conference. The Soviet Union had been part of most of the conference preparations. Maurice Strong, in his capacity as Secretary-General of the Stockholm conference, was in daily contact with Soviet embassy personnel in Stockholm during the conference (Rowland, 1973, p47; Strong, 2001, p123). The East-bloc would moreover have an opportunity to address the decisions at Stockholm, as they would be discussed and adopted by the UN General Assembly. 16 inter-governmental organizations and over 250 non-governmental organizations (NGO) also came to Stockholm(Jordbruksdepartementet, 1972, p4). Delegates met in Stockholm in June 1972 celebrating the motto of the Stockholm conference, Only One Earth.

However, even on the first day of the conference it was apparent that there were starkly contrasting views on
issues relating to environment and development, and the headline in the first issue of the daily conference paper read Only 113 Earths. The boycott by the Soviet bloc meant that the Cold War divide that cast its shadow over most other UN activities at the time had a smaller influence on the Stockholm conference. The absence of the East-West dimension at Stockholm instead led to a surge in the dominance of North-South issues and rhetoric.

Echoing many of the controversies during the conference preparations, many developing countries at the Stockholm conference sharply criticized industrialized
countries for environmental actions and economical practices that they believed had dire effects on their social and economic well-being (Rowland, 1973, pp 47-100). Developing countries also criticized industrialized countries of trying to use the environment as an excuse to restrict development efforts and stressed the importance of the notion of “additionality.” In contrast, industrialized countries argued that it was an obligation of all countries to take domestic action on environmental issues and engage in multilateral cooperation on environmental issues with transboundary consequences. They also resisted calls from developing countries for sharp increases in international
financial assistance for environment and development projects.

Outcomes of the Stockholm conference

The Stockholm conference produced three major sets of decisions, often bearing the marks of compromises between industrialized and developing countries (Jordbruksdepartementet, 1972, p15). The first decision was the Stockholm Declaration, which consisted of a preamble and 26 principles. The second decision was the Stockholm Action Plan, which was made up of 109 recommendations on international measures against environmental degradation for governments and international organizations. The third set of decisions was a group of five resolutions that called for: i) a ban on nuclear weapons tests that could lead to radioactive fall-out; ii) the creation of an international databank of environmental data; iii) the initiation of actions linked to development and environment; iv) international organizational changes; and v) the creation of an environmental fund. The decisions taken at Stockholm were discussed by the UN General Assembly in late December 1972. Although there was controversy over some issues, most
decisions were adopted with few or no changes (UNGA A/PV 2112, 1972, pp1-18).

The Stockholm process and its decisions have had lasting impacts on international and national activities in several ways. Here we discuss some of the more important ones, which in many cases have been mutually reinforcing. First, the Stockholm conference put the environment on the international political agenda.
As a result of the Stockholm conference, the environment became recognized as a central international political issue. Earlier efforts on conservation and pollution had addressed these issues in a piecemeal fashion. After Stockholm, the environment became widely seen as something that required coordinated domestic and international attention to a wide range of issues relating to the biosphere and human development. The Stockholm conference also contradicted the earlier notion that issues relating to the natural environment were relevant mainly for scientists and other experts as evident in earlier efforts on the
protection of natural resources and conservation (Strong, 1972, pp73-78). In this respect, the Stockholm conference helped to greatly broaden the spectrum of groups and people debating and addressing international environmental issues.

Second, the Stockholm conference established groundbreaking
international legal principles and codes of conduct. Through its role in promoting
international legal developments, the Stockholm conference has been described as a
watershed event in international environmental law (Kiss, 1993, p11). The establishment of
important legal principles and codes of conduct in the Stockholm Declaration and the Stockholm Action Plan in turn underpinned much environmental discourse and treaty-making post-Stockholm. The Preamble of the Stockholm Declaration proclaimed that the “protection and improvement of the human environment” is the duty of all governments. Local and national governments were identified with having the greatest
responsibility, but the Preamble also recognized a growing need for international
cooperation on environmental issues. Environmental problems in industrialized countries
were recognized to generally be related to “industrialization and technological
development.” In contrast, most environmental problems in developing countries were
seen to be caused by “under-development,” giving developing countries the right
to prioritize development but bearing in mind “the need to safeguard and improve the

Principle 1 of the Declaration stated that a human environment that
permits a life of dignity and well-being is a basic human right and that governments
shared a responsibility to “protect and improve the environment for present and
future generations.” This was the first time that the connection between human rights
and safe environmental conditions was made in a multilateral political declaration, thus
extending the list of basic human rights from the UN Charter (Kiss, 1994). Principle 8
recognized that continued economic and social development is essential for improving human
environment conditions. Principle 9 stated that environmental problems resulting from
“under-development” should be addressed “through the transfer of
substantial quantities of financial and technological assistance as a supplement to the
domestic effort of the developing countries.” Principle 10 called for “stability
and adequate earnings for primary commodities and raw material,” while Principle 11
stated that “environmental policies of all States should enhance and not adversely
affect the present or future development potential of developing countries.”

Some countries observed an emerging conflict between the sovereignty
principle and efforts to take effective international political actions on environmental
issues (Åström, 1972, p4). The Stockholm
did not question the central role of the sovereignty
principle in international law, but established important addendums. Principle 21
recognized the right of sovereign states to exploit their own resources pursuant to their
own environmental policies, but assigned states a shared “responsibility to ensure
that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the
environment of other states or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.”
Principle 22 outlined a general obligation of states to further cooperate and develop
“international law regarding liability and compensation for the victims of pollution
and other environmental damage” caused by activities within the jurisdiction of a
state to areas beyond the jurisdiction of that state.
Third, the Stockholm conference led to the creation of the United
Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

During most of the conference preparations, issues relating to international organizational changes to deal
with environmental issues were consciously ignored. There were two main reasons for this.
First, those who favored the creation of a new UN environmental agency did not want to
give existing UN specialized agencies a reason to feel that the conference preparations
interfered with their competence. Second, there was a general resistance among many states
to create new international organizations that would demand additional resources, and it
was feared by those seeking organizational changes that bringing up organizational issues
too early could invoke resistance against the conference per se (Bäckstrand, 1971,
p25; Campbell, 1973, pp146-147; Engfeldt, 1973, p397).

The idea of a UN environmental agency was officially presented by
Secretary-General U Thant during a speech on May 14, 1970 (Bäckstrand, 1971, p26; Cordier
and Harrelson, 1977, p350). Some countries that generally favored multilateralism,
together with several non-governmental groups and experts, envisioned an organization with
regulatory powers. However, this was fiercely rejected by other states such as the United
States, United Kingdom and France that feared an erosion of state sovereignty, and refused
to accept anything beyond a coordinating mechanism. As a result, the Stockholm conference
decided to recommend that the UN General Assembly set up a program to act as coordinator
and catalyst of multilateral cooperation on the environment, rather than an international
regulatory organization. Over time, UNEP, with its headquarters located in Nairobi, has
evolved into an important forum for international debate and cooperation on environmental
issues, although it has been criticized for not fully living up to its potential (Strong,
2001, p141).

Fourth, the Stockholm conference identified areas for deepened
multilateral cooperation. Complementing the broader Stockholm Declaration, more
specific recommendations in the Stockholm Action Plan identified three areas of action for
future international environmental activities, to be facilitated by UNEP. The first area
of action was environmental assessment activities. Assessments were designed to generate
knowledge relevant for environmental decision making and to stimulate exchange of such
knowledge among experts and decision makers. The second area of action focused on
management activities. These activities were designed to facilitate planning and
management of rural and urban human settlements, improve natural resources management, and
address pollution of broad international significance. The third area of actions centered
on supporting measures such as improving education, training, public information and
technical cooperation to facilitate the use of knowledge in decision making.
Recommendations on organizational arrangements concerned how various intergovernmental
organizations should work together on relevant issues, and recommendations on financing
focused issues relating to financial assistance for activities, including efforts to
assist developing countries.

In part based on prioritizations in the Stockholm Action Plan, there
was an intensification of international technical and scientific environmental assessment
activities under UNEP in the 1970s that generated important data for policy making. As
discussed earlier, the first multilateral agreements on nature protection and pollution
were negotiated long before the Stockholm conference, but the Stockholm conference
stimulated an increased interest in development of international environmental law and
multilateral environmental treaty-making, often utilizing international environmental
assessments. Such efforts, in many cases aided by UNEP, involved a continuation of earlier
efforts on wildlife protection and marine pollution. In addition, air pollution emerged as
a major area of treaty-making.

Fifth, the Stockholm conference stimulated domestic developments

Limited domestic environmental legislation existed in many countries before the Stockholm
conference, but a survey of the national reports that were prepared during the conference
preparations show that preparations for the Stockholm conference helped identify domestic
environmental problems and stimulated the development of more comprehensive domestic
legislation (Country Reports to UNCHE). In many cases, such an increase in environmental
legislation was accompanied by the establishment of national environment ministries and
environmental protection agencies (Meyer et al., 1997; Frank et al., 2000) The
Stockholm conference was not the only
factor contributing to these domestic legal and organizational changes, but its
recognition of a need for political action to address environmental issues contributed to
domestic organizational and legal change. The
Stockholm Action Plan also outlined several issues for increased regional and
national attention.

Sixth, the Stockholm conference opened up the door to civil society.
Efforts by the conference secretariat and the Swedish organizing committee to include
non-state groups in conference preparations and at the conference helped to open up the
environmental debate to include a much wider spectrum of groups and people. These efforts
provided opportunities to affect activities for different political factions, business
interests and environmental groups that had previously not had access to the debate and
policy making in the UN. Their presence at the conference may not have had a large
influence on official conference participants, and NGOs were not permitted to speak at
plenary and participate in working-groups (Strong, 2001). However, many NGOs reported
important information back to the politicians, general public and the media in their home
countries, influencing domestic perceptions (Caldwell, 1996, p72; Stone, 1973). The
creation of UNEP and the Environmental Liaison Center in Nairobi also made it possible for
NGOs to focus much of their international environmental efforts toward one forum (Meyer et
al., 1997, p637). The inclusion of NGOs in major UN meetings and activities has also been
customary since the Stockholm conference.

Finally, the Stockholm conference linked environment and development.
The preparations for the Stockholm conference actively sought to combine environmental
protection measures with strives for economic and social development. Of course, these
connections have a much longer history in domestic settings and in some international
conservation efforts (Worster, 1993, pp144-45), but the Stockholm conference pushed these
issues into the main political realm. As a basis for more elaborate international
environmental cooperation and policy-making, the driving notion of the possibility of
joint fulfillment of development and environment goals entered a much more dynamic phase
with the Stockholm conference. Thus, the preparations for and holding of the
Stockholm conference pushed the idea on domestic and international agendas that the
simultaneous achievement of economic development and environmental management was both
possible and necessary.

From One World to a Common Future

Many of the global cooperative efforts on environmental issues after
the Stockholm conference have been carried out under UNEP auspices, generating knowledge
about environmental conditions and trends, and creating a growing body of international
environmental law. UNEP has collaborated with a number of other UN agencies, including the
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP) and WHO. UNEP has also been in close contact with non-governmental groups such as
the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), the International Union for the
Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
(Holdgate, 1999, pp130-155). While UNEP has been criticized for not fully living up to its
potential, it created a legitimate forum for international debate and cooperation on
environmental issues (Meyer et al., 1997).

UNEP’s activities in promoting implantation of the Stockholm Action Plan and other issues that
emerged after the
Stockholm conference have been based on a tri-level program strategy (Caldwell, 1996, p87). The first
level has consisted of producing the
annual State
of the Environment
report and reviewing action on international,
regional and national priority areas. The second level has focused on stimulating concrete
action on problems identified at the first level. Such efforts have often taken the form
of organizing international awareness-raising conferences and facilitating the creation of
multilateral environmental agreements. The third level has consisted of supporting
technical and scientific monitoring and research activities. Early examples included the
creation of the
Global Environmental Monitoring
System, the International Environmental Information System, the International
Environmental Education Programme, and the International Register of Potentially Toxic
Most progress on environmental issues after the Stockholm conference
was on issues that were pushed by the wealthy industrialized countries; they were the
countries with the most and best technical, scientific and economic resources to take
environmental action. Based on their interests, much of the multilateral environmental
cooperation after Stockholm focused on marine and river pollution issues. Major
international marine pollution agreements that were adopted after the Stockholm
conference, but which had begun to be negotiated earlier, included the
1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping
of Wastes and Other Matter and the 1973 Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from
UNEP became involved in efforts to create a comprehensive
legal framework for the world’s oceans. The resultant
UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was
adopted in December 1982, outlines detailed provisions for the use of oceans and their
resources. In addition to global marine efforts, UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme began
in the mid 1970s to draw up and implement protection plans for regional seas in
coordination with regional stakeholders (Thacher, 1977, p308). These efforts have expanded
over time, and currently cover fourteen regions across the globe.
Conservation efforts also continued after the Stockholm conference. The
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna was signed
in March 1973

. On air pollution, European and North American negotiations under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe led to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. In response to growing problems with drought, many developing countries called for a global strategy on desertification shortly after the Stockholm conference (Corell, 1999, pp67-72). To that end, the UN Conference on Desertification was held in 1977, and created an action plan on desertification. The Plan of Action to Combat Desertification contained 28 recommendations for national, regional and international action. However, the plan remained largely unimplemented, until UNCED once again prompted the issue.

A major theme of UNEP throughout the 1970s on environment and development was the term eco-development, used to describe attempts at ecologically sound socio-economic development (Caldwell, 1996, p85; Holdgate, 1999, p151). However, UNEP and countries used eco-development mainly as a rhetorical concept rather than a means for guiding policy making and implementation, and there were few concrete actions to achieve ecologically sound socio-economic development in practice in the immediate aftermath of the Stockholm conference. This was partly the result of a lingering inability to overcome conflicts between industrialized and developing countries over prioritizations of environment and development issues and financial responsibilities. In addition, severe energy crises and economic recessions in many countries in the 1970s resulted in harsh domestic economic conditions that significantly reduced states’ willingness to take costly action on environment and development issues.

A first major attempt to continue linking environment and development issues after the Stockholm conference was the symposium on Patterns of Resource Use, Environment and Development Strategies. The symposium, held in COCOYOC, Mexico, in October 1974, was organized jointly by UNEP and the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The meeting gathered experts who served in their individual capacities, not as government representatives. Whereas the Stockholm conference had begun as an idea of an environmental conference that came to include development issues, the COCOYOC meeting predominantly looked at environmental issues in so far as they interacted with development concerns. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss implications of the use of technologies that were destructive to the physical environment in light of the need for economic and social development.

The main outcome of the symposium was the COCOYOC DECLARATION, which presented a broad strategy for addressing development issues. The COCOYOC DECLARATION noted that “the evils which flow from excessive reliance on the market system” had led to a failure to fulfill the development goals of the UN Charter for most of the world’s population. The declaration stated that this failure was caused by economic and social misdistribution and misuse, rather than a lack of physical resources. As a result, any solution to these problems could not be found in a continued reliance on market mechanisms. Consequently, argued the COCOYOC DECLARATION, a new international system had to be created to improve social and economic situations for the poorest countries, (Anonymous, 1975).



More explicitly than the Stockholm Declaration, the Cocoyoc Declaration focused on issues of environmental justice. It regarded the unequal distribution between industrialized and developing countries as a direct contribution to environmental pressure and degradation. Artificially low prices of raw materials from developing countries had contributed to pollution and waste generation in industrialized countries. Further, severe poverty in many developing countries had led people in these countries to cultivate to the point of destructive soil erosion and to migrate to economically and socially run-down areas of overcrowded cities. Addressing these issues, the COCOYOC DECLARATION supported UNEP’s efforts to assist projects on eco-development, but called for more aggressive action. In its stand on international economic issues, the COCOYOC DECLARATION thereby was closely connected to efforts or revision of the global system foreconomic relations by the Group of 77 in the 1970s and the UN the Declaration and Programme of Action on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order proclaimed by the General Assembly in May 1974 (UNGA RES 3201 and 3202; Cox, 1979; Keohane and Nye, 1977). A less radical effort on environment and development in the 1970s was the

World Conservation Strategy (WCS). The WCS sought to reconcile conservation efforts and strives for social and economic development by adding a stronger development dimension to earlier efforts on conservation (Holdgate, 1999, pp149-155). The WCS was launched by the IUCN, UNEP and WWF simultaneously in 35 countries on March 5, 1980. The WCS sought to enforce the notion that conservation is not the opposite of development and that both conservation and the rational use of natural resources and development efforts are necessary to secure the welfare of present and future generations. In part building on the term eco-development, the WCS used the concept of sustainable development to describe this notion. Since 1980, the WCS has stimulated the creation of a large number of national and sub-national conservation strategies. The World Charter for Naturewas another moderate initiative on environment and development in the late 1970s that grew out of a traditional conservation tradition. A charter draft was developed by the IUCN in the late 1970s. The charter proposal was presented to the UN Secretary-General in 1980.A revised charter proposal based on comments from several countries was presented to the UN General Assembly in 1982 (Holdgate, 1999, p149; Caldwell, 1996, pp98-100). Several European countries supported the proposal and argued that it acted as a logical compliment to the WCS. Other countries, many in South and Latin America, Canada, India and the U.S. raised objections. These objections in part stemmed from a desire of wanting to protect national sovereignty:
the charter in several places used the word “shall” rather than the weaker “should” and some countries found such language infringing on their sovereign rights.

Despite objections by some countries, the World Charter for Nature
(WCN) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on October 28, 1982. In contrast to the expansive work on environmental issues over the decade preceding the WCN, the Charter only
mentioned the word “environment” four times. Instead it focused on the fact that conservation of nature had to be regarded as an integral part of social and economic development. The Charter stressed the need for conservation of natural resources and systems for social and economic development for both present and future generations. To that end, the WCN reaffirmed Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration and called for increased scientific cooperation and policy making and implementation. The WCN also stipulated that activities that that “disturb nature” should be carried out so as to “minimize potential adverse effects” (UNGA RES 37/7, 1982)

In December 1980, the UN General Assembly decided to commemorate the
tenth anniversary of the Stockholm conference with a UNEP Governing Council Session of a
Special Character that would be open to all UN members. This meeting is sometimes referred
to as Stockholm+10 and was held in Nairobi in May, 1982. 134 states attended the Nairobi
meeting, delivering 127 statements (Environmental Policy and Law, 1982, p7). Whereas the
Stockholm conference was set up to be action-oriented and forward-looking, the Session of
a Special Character was designed to be more retrospective. Its first and foremost goal was
to review the extent to which the Stockholm Action Plan had
been implemented. A second goal was to formulate recommendations for UNEP activities for
the coming decade. Such recommendations were to be general rather than in the form of a
detailed action plan.

Two major UNEP documents were written for the Nairobi meeting assessing
implementation and looking at principal trends during the post-Stockholm period: The
Environment in 1982
: Retrospect and Prospect and The World Environment
: A Report by the United Nations Environment Programme. The two
reports pointed to several instances in which there had only been partial implementation
of both environment and development goals. UNEP
Executive Director Mostafa Tolba
opened the Nairobi meeting by
noting the slow actions by governments in addressing central environment and development
issues. Such sentiments were also expressed by many representatives of both developing and
industrialized countries as well as NGOs, stressing the fact that many important
environmental trends were negative and more and more people in the global South were
unable to meet their own most basic needs (UNEP 1982a, Environmental Policy and Law, 1982,
pp2-27; Scharlin, 1982).
The Declaration of the Session of a Special Character

concluded that the results over the last decade had been far from satisfactory
and that the Stockholm Action Plan only had been partially implemented (UNEP, 1982). It
put the blame on, among other things, the state of the global economy: “A worsening
of environmental problems in developing countries arising from the present international
economic order which has slowed down their development and the protection of their
environment” (UNEP, 1982b). The Stockholm+10 conclusion of an unsatisfactory
implementation echoed awareness by many industrialized and developing countries in the
early 1980s that only minor steps had been taken to improve environmental conditions and
social and economic development for the poorest people. Lack of specific progress was
noted in, for example, poverty alleviation, providing of adequate housing and drinkable
water for many people, combating soil erosion and deforestation, managing hazardous
chemicals and wastes, and abating air and water pollution. The severe famine disasters
plaguing large parts of Africa in the early and mid 1980s were another strong evidence of
Trying to address past shortcomings on environment and development, the
UN General Assembly established a special commission to formulate a long-term agenda for
action. The resulting World Commission on Environment and Development existed from 1983 to
1986 under the leadership of Gro Harlem Brundtland. The main outcome of the Brundtland
Commission was the report Our Common Future that was published in 1987. Building on
earlier use of the terms eco-development and sustainable development, the Brundtland
Commission sought to focus attention on an increasing need to more effectively link
environmental protection efforts with strives for social and economic development.
Picking up on the importance of inter-generational awareness expressed in, for
example, the Stockholm Declaration, the WCS and the WCN, the
Brundtland Commission proclaimed that to make
development sustainable was “to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World
Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, p8).

The Brundtland Commission supported those who were critical of the progress that had been achieved since
the Stockholm conference. Based on the work by the
and others calling for renewed political attention to
environment and development issues, a proposal for a major UN political conference on
environment and development was raised in the UN General Assembly in 1986.
A General Assembly Resolution in 1989 set the wheels in motion
for UNCED, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
UNCED was intended to
build on the institutional, legal and programmatic achievements of the Stockholm
conference and efforts post-Stockholm, but to be more effective where Stockholm had tried
and largely failed — the purpose of the Rio conference was to bridge the central
conflicts between industrialized and developing countries in order to generate effective


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