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The Stockholm Declaration of 1972: Pioneering Principles for Environmental Law and Global Responsibility

The Stockholm Declaration, 1972

(The United Nations Conference On Human Environment)

(The Stockholm Declaration And Its Impact)
The year 1968 marks a watershed in the history of environment management. The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations passed a resolution (No. 1346) on 30th July, 1968 for convening an International Conference on the problems of human environment. This was followed by a resolution No.2398 (XXIII) passed on 3rd December, 1968 by the United Nations General Assembly.

In pursuance of the resolution, the United Nations Conference on Human Environment (UNCHE) for the first time, was held at Stockholm from 5th to 16th June, 1972. 113 States including India represented by the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi participated. The term USSR and other Communist Countries/States did not attend for the reason German Democratic Republic was not invited.

Representatives for many international non: governmental organizations, inter:
Governmental Organizations, specialized agencies attended the Conference. The main purpose of the conference was to seek extensive cooperation on global level to discuss elaborately various problems on environmental degradation.

The UNCHE emphasized that the defending and improving the environment must become a goal to be pursued by all countries.

The salient features of UNICHE are:

  1. The Declaration of Human Environment.
  2. The Action Plan for the Human Environment.
  3. The Resolution on Institutional and Financial Arrangements.
  4. The Resolution on Designation of a World Environment Day.
  5. Resolution on Nuclear Weapons Tests.
  6. Resolution on the convening of a second conference.
  7. Decision to refer to Governments for recommendation for action in the national plan.
The Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan defined principles for the preservation and enhancement of the natural environment, and high: lighted the need to support people in this process.

A declaration under the head "The Magna Carta of Our Environment" was passed in the conference. The Stockholm Declaration, 1972 comprises of two parts. The first part contain seven realties/truths about man and his relation to the environment. Second part of the declaration contains 26 principles providing for an International policy for the protection and improvement of the Environment.

The Conference is of particular reference to India. Mrs. Gandhi, while addressing the conference, drew the attention of the world community towards our peculiar environmental problems. India shared the view with other developing states that environmental problems are mainly due to lack of development rather than excessive development. Thus, every Government in the world, in the process of development encourages the establishment of industries to eradicate poverty, mal nutrition, unemployment etc. At the same time, the process of development should be designed in such a way that it should not result in environmental pollution.

Salient Features or Realities of the Stockholm Declaration on Human Environment, 1972: Part: I of the declaration centered seven realities as follows:

  1. A person himself creates environment around him, which depends on his moral, physical, intellectual traits and concept of social development. The modern scientific and technological changes have brought about a radical change in the environment.
  2. The responsibility for conservation and protection of environment solely rests in the individual and it should not be ignored or overlooked under any circumstances.
  3. It is natural human tendency to use his creativity for his advancement and progress but he should not cause damage to water and air resources, animals or forest assets in this endeavor as it would adversely affect the environment and ecosystem.
  4. Overpopulation has been identified as the main cause of environmental pollution, therefore, this problem has got to be tackled on a priority basis.
  5. The environmental problems of developing nations are mainly due to the multifarious problems of undeveloped nations.
  6. The ill-effects of the environmental degradation should not be taken lightly, instead they should timely handled by progressive and pragmatic policies and preventive measures.
  7. People, including citizens, groups, industrialists, and social institutions should make common efforts for the preservation and improvement of the environment for their development and prosperity. The U.N. should also organize conferences, conventions, workshops, seminars etc. to provide a common platform for all the countries to discuss their environment related problems and find solution to resolve them.

Principles of Stockholm Declaration: Part: II of the Stockholm Declaration, 1972 contained 26 principles for protection and improvement of human environment as follows:

  • Principle 1: Right to environment is one of the fundamental rights of every individual which assures him right to live with dignity and includes right to equality and adequate conditions of life, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.
  • Principle 2: Natural resources of earth, including the air, water, land, flora and fauna and especially representative samples of ecosystems, must be safeguarded for the benefit of the present and future generations through careful planning and management.
  • Principle 3: Capacity of the earth to produce vital renewable resources must be maintained and wherever practicable, restored.
  • Principle 4: Man has special responsibility to safeguard and wisely manage the heritage of wild life and its habitat. Preservation of wild life must therefore, receive importance in planning for economic development.
  • Principle 5: The non-renewable resources of the earth must be employed in a way so as to guard against the danger of their future exhaustion and to ensure that mankind shares benefits from such employments.
  • Principle 6: Provides that discharge of toxic substances or of other substances and release of heat in such quantities or concentrations as to exceed the capacity of environment or to render them harmless must be halted in order to ensure that serious or irreversible danger is not inflicted upon eco-system. This principle is obviously based on the Precautionary Principle, which is an integral component of the sub-sustainable development.
  • Principle 7: The States must initiate all steps to prevent such substances being thrown or drained in the sea which are likely to cause marine environment and are dangerous for the sea lives and vegetation.
  • Principle 8: It is necessary to create such conditions on the earth which are conducive to human living and are necessary for socio-economic development and for the better living.
  • Principle 9: Underdevelopment and natural calamities result in serious environmental problems. These can be removed by domestic efforts of the developed countries in the form of financial and technological assistance and support.
  • Principle 10: It is necessary for the developed countries to maintain price stability of essential commodities and availability of raw material for environmental management. At the same time, they should also take into consideration the ecological aspects of these problems.
  • Principle 11: 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 for all.
  • Principle 12: Sufficient resources should be available to the developing countries to meet their expectations regarding removal of difficulties that they are likely to face in their development plan, so that they are not and hindrance in improvement of their living.
  • Principle 13: In order to achieve more rational management of resources and 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 environment.
  • Principle 14: National planning constitutes an essential tool for reconciling any conflict between needs of development and need to protect and improve environment.
  • Principle 15: Planning must extend to human settlements and urbanization with a view to avoiding adverse effects on environment.
  • Principle 16: Policies relating to population statistics which are not opposed to basic human rights and which the States consider useful may be made use of in regions which have high population growth rate or dense population, which is likely to adversely affect the environmental development or where underpopulation may be a hindrance to improvement of environment.
  • Principle 17: Appropriate national institution may be assigned the responsibility of organization, management and control of resources of environment.
  • Principle 18: It is futile to think of environmental protection without creating awareness about environmental matters.
  • Principle 19: States shall provide prior and timely notification and relevant information to potentially affect States on activities that may have a significant adverse trans-boundary environment effects.
  • Principle 20: All countries, especially the developing countries, must encourage and promote scientific research and development on matters related to environmental problems which are of national or international nature.
  • Principle 21: There is an urgent need for further development in the area of legal control of acid rain, greenhouse effect and ozone depletion.
  • Principle 22: States should cooperate in further development of international law regarding liability and compensation for the victims of environmental pollution within or outside their territorial jurisdiction.
  • Principle 23: The standards set by the international community which do not adversely affect the standards set by State members should be implemented and accepted by all States, but they should not be un-useful or against the interests of the developing States.
  • Principle 24: Action should be taken by all States whether big or small, for the protection and improvement of environment on equal footings. Multilateral or bilateral cooperation is necessary to control, prevent and end the causes which are detrimental to the development and improvement of environment without, however, affecting the sovereignty and interests of the participating States.
  • Principle 25: The states should ensure protection of environment against pollution by appropriate means and play an active role in improvement of the environment.
  • Principle 26: The protection of environment from the evil effects of atomic weapons and genocide is the prime duty of each State and they should make efforts to mobilize international consent for destruction of such weapons.

Significant Features: Following are the significant features of the Stockholm Declaration, 1972:

  1. Man is both creator and moulder of his environment. He can transform his environment in countless ways and on an unprecedented scale. The protection and improvement of the human environment is major issue, which affects the well: being of peoples and economic development throughout the world, it is the urgent desire of the peoples of the whole world and the duty of all Governments.
  2. The concept of "Sustainable Development" came to be known in international sphere for the first time in Stockholm Declaration and was given definite shape in 1987 by the World Commission on "Environment and Development" in its report entitled "Our Common Future". The expression "Sustainable Development" means "the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs".

    The salient features of sustainable development are yet to be finalized by the International Jurists. However, Inter:  Governmental Equity, use and conservation of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection, the precautionary principle, polluter pays principle, obligation to assist and co:  operate, eradication of poverty and financial assistance to the developing countries may be regarded as the features of the sustainable development.
  3. States shall take possible steps to prevent pollution of the seas by the substances that are causing hazards to human health, living resources and marine life.
  4. Resources should be made available to preserve and improve the environment (Principle 12).
  5. Appropriate national institutions must be entrusted with the task of planning, managing or controlling the environmental resources for improving environmental quality (Principle 17).
  6. Scientific Research and development in the context of environmental problems, both national and multinational must be promoted in all countries, especially in developing countries (Principle 20).
  7. In accordance with the provisions of the U.N. Charter and Principles of International Law, States have sovereign rights to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies (Principle 21).
  8. International matters concerning the protection and improvement of the environment should be handled in a co: operative spirit by all countries, big or small on an equal footing and through the multinational or bilateral agreements/ treaties (Principle 24).
Effects of Stockholm Declaration: The recommendations of the Stockholm Declaration drew the attention of the member states and the same were confirmed by the U.N. General Assembly. (Vide Resolution No. 2997 27th Session, 1973). The United Nations Responmental Programine (UNEP) was set up in Geneva in June, 1973.

The UNEP strove hard for successful implementation of the recommendations of the Stockholm Declaration. Several States/ Governments passed appropriate legislations for protection and improvement of environment. In India, nearly 200 Central and State legislations on environment were passed However, the principal legislations are twelve.

Further, the Stockholm Declaration, had an impact on the Indian Judiciary. The Courts in India (The Supreme Court and the High Courts) also have given a new interpretation to constitutional provisions relating to environmental prospective and delivered landmark judgments.

In Vellore Citizen's Welfare Forum vs. Union of India and Others, (AIR 1996 SC 2115), the Supreme Court critically analyzed the relationship between environment and development and has given its approval to "sustainable development" rather than absolute development or development at all costs".

Similarly, the court evolved the principle of "Absolute Liability" in preference to Strict Liability in 'Bhopal Gas Disaster case' (1991 4 SCC 584); "Public Trust Doctrine" in Kamalnath v. Union of India (19971 SCC 388) and laid down in other cases the principles of great importance. The successful results of the Stockholm Conference paved the way for holding of some other International Conventions on environmental protection.

The United Nations Conference on Human Environment held at Stockholm in Sweden made several recommendations to take necessary steps at global level to protect and enhance the human environment for present and future generations. As a result, the U.N. General Assembly has set up "The United National Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1973.

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