Fifty years of UN Conference on Human Environment, 1972 – what we achieved and what we missed, Health News, ET HealthWorld


Fifty years of UN Conference on Human Environment, 1972 – what we achieved and what we missedby Dinesh Agrawal & Dr Praveen Aggarwal

United Nations Conference on the Human Environment also known as Stockholm Conference was a watershed moment to bring the issue of the environment to the centre stage of the world. The conference was held in Stockholm, Sweden, from June 5 to 16, 1972. It was largely influenced by the Report on “Limit to Growth” submitted to the Club of Rome in 1971 and published in March 1972.

The report of the conference stated 26 principles concerning the environment and 109 recommendations for action at the international level covering areas related to Human Settlements for Environmental Quality; Natural Resource Management; Pollutants of Broad International Significance; Educational, Informational, Social and Cultural Aspects of Environmental Issues; and Development and Environment.

The approach was to balance both the rights and responsibilities of humans, as stated in the very first principle “Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.”

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was created in December 1972 to coordinate global efforts to promote sustainability and safeguard the natural environment. It was also decided to designate June 5 as World Environment Day to undertake worldwide activities and the concern for the preservation and enhancement of the human environment.

India created National Committee on Environmental Planning and Coordination (NCEPC) under the Department of Science and Technology in Feb 1972 to provide environmental considerations in the development process, ahead of the UN conference.

For example, the Singrauli Super Thermal Power Project, the first project of NTPC, was accorded environmental clearance by NCEPC and incorporated the best available technology including tall stacks and high-efficiency electrostatic precipitators. NTPC also started the full EIA studies of proposed projects in 1982 for the first time in India.

NCEPC played an important role in the formulation of legislative measures like the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981. CPCB and SPCB were established under the Water Act of 1974. NCEPC was merged with the Ministry of Environment and Forest created in 1985.

The last 50 years of the focus on the environment had many significant achievements though found lacking to address many critical environmental issues. Some of the global success stories are as below:

  • The International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships in 1973
  • Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, Vienna, 1985, including the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Montreal, 1987
  • Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), New York, 1992, including the Kyoto Protocol, 1997, and the Paris Agreement, 2015
  • Stockholm Convention Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants Stockholm, 2001
  • The Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2013

Yet, the world failed to address many critical environmental issues, particularly those that were not envisaged or identified in 1972 as the growth rate of GDP remained the main driver of the development to improve the standard of living.

However, if the world aspires to have the same level of standard of living and consumption level that of the USA, we will need 5 earth and there is one and only One Earth.
Fifty years of UN Conference on Human Environment, 1972 – what we achieved and what we missed
In this context, it is worth looking back at the “Limit to Growth” report published in 1972 using the World3 model based on five variables: “population, food production, industrialization, pollution, and consumption of nonrenewable natural resources”. The result is depicted in the following chart.
Fifty years of UN Conference on Human Environment, 1972 – what we achieved and what we missedRef: YaguraStation – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=92084922
These predictions were based on the assumptions of growth as envisaged in 1972. This has reignited the debate on “limits to growth” and focused on the concept of the circular economy.

While many issues have been addressed during the past 50 years, there are still few major burning issues related to the following:

  • Chemical pollution
  • Waste management
  • Urban air pollution
  • freshwater and marine management
  • climate change
  • Plastic pollution etc.

Technology has a big role in addressing these issues but cannot achieve much unless we change our thought processes and behaviors. Albert Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Sustainable development has to be aligned to the concept of “Limit to growth” and targeted “De-growth” in certain geographies/ sectors based on the philosophy of “Carrying Capacity” of the eco-system.

We need to collaborate and not compete to create partnerships together with technocrats, energy startups, policymakers, consumers and influencers like media to create the next set of success stories, eliminate some of the problems above, and contribute to India’s environmental growth.

Dinesh Agrawal, Principal Consultant, Consocia Advisory.
Dr Praveen Aggarwal, Co-Founder Consocia Advisory, CEO at Action Alliance for Recycling Beverage Cartons.

(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETHealthworld does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETHealthworld.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person / organisation directly or indirectly.)





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