The first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) was held in Stockholm, Sweden from June 5 to June 16, 1972. Representatives from 113 countries were present, as well as representatives from many international non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and many other specialized agencies. This was the first United Nations conference on the environment as well as the first major international gathering focused on human activities in relationship to the environment, and it laid the foundation for environmental action at an international level. The conference acknowledged that the goal of reducing human impact on the environment would require extensive international cooperation, as many of the problems affecting the environment are global in nature. Following this conference, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was launched in order to encourage United Nations agencies to integrate environmental measures into their programs.
The UNCHE emphasized that defending and improving the environment must become a goal to be pursued by all countries. The Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan defined principles for the preservation and enhancement of the natural environment, and highlighted the need to support people in this process. The Conference indicated that “industrialized” environmental problems, such as habitat degradation, toxicity and acid rain , were not necessarily relevant issues for all countries. In particular, development strategies were not meeting the needs of the poorest countries and communities.
Some of the specific issues addressed was the role which industrialized countries should have in the process of protecting the environment, stating that industrial countries should help to close the gap between them and underdeveloped countries while keeping their own priorities and the protection and improvement of the environment in mind. The conference developed a long set of recommendations to act as goals to pursue its mission. Recommendations included that governments communicate about environmental issues that have international implications (such as air pollution), that governments give attention to the training of those who plan, develop, and manage settlement areas, and that agencies work together to address many issues, such as access to clean water and population growth.
However, it was the pending environmental problems that dominated the meeting and led to wider public environmental awareness.
United Nations Environment Programme
One of the greatest achievements of the UNCHE was the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), based in Nairobi, Kenya. The mission of UNEP 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." UNEP is the voice for the environment within the United Nations system and works toward this mission by:
- Encouraging international participation and cooperation in addressing environmental issues and environmental policy
- Monitoring the status of the global environment and interpreting environmental data collected
- Creating environmental awareness in governments, society, and the private sector
- Coordinating UN activities pertaining to the environment
- Helping environmental authorities, especially those in developing countries, form and implement policy
- Helping to develop international environmental law
- Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment
- Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment
- United Nations Environment Programme Homepage
- United Nations Homepage