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This article is written by Souradh C.Valson from Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. This article analyses the key points of the Stockholm declaration.


The right to a clean environment is a fundamental right under Article 21. In the international scenario, the United Nations conference on the human environment or popularly known as the Stockholm Convention was the first major UN meeting to deal with environmental issues and to declare that the right to live in a healthy environment as a basic right. 

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment

In 1968-1969, the General Assembly, by Resolutions 2398 and 2581 decided to conduct the conference. The Stockholm Convention was held in Sweden from June 5-16, 1972.  The object behind this convention was to “create a basis for comprehensive consideration within the United Nations of the problems of the human environment,” and to “focus the attention of Governments and public opinion in various countries on the importance of the problem.”

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This convention led UNEP to coordinate global action for the protection and preservation of the environment in December 1972.

Many issues were resolved before the actual conference by the countries to limit the number of issues during the convention. This was primarily done by the conference secretariat. The conference secretariat headed by Mr. Maurice F. Strong planned the conference meticulously. 

The convention adopted the following:

  1. A basic declaration containing a set of common principles to aid the people in protecting and conserving the environment. 
  2. A detailed resolution for financial and institutional arrangements for environmental protection.
  3. An action plan containing 109 recommendations. This aims to identify and quantify the environmental problems, warn about any crisis, and to adopt supporting measures, by establishing an Earthwatch.

At the end of the convention 26 principles were adopted and declared by the participating states. This is known as the Magna Carta of the human environment. 


The declaration is divided into 2 parts. The first part contains seven truths about man and his connection with the environment. It also contains general observations, such as that men are both creators and molders of their environment. The protection of the environment is a pressing issue. It is the desire of the citizens of all the nations and the responsibility of all the governments to protect and preserve the environment. The second part contains 26 principles which form the basis of the international policy for the protection and preservation of the environment.

Principles of the Stockholm declaration

The 26 principles or the Magna Carta on the human environment are dealt with in great detail. For better understanding, the principles are grouped on their applicability and enforceability. They are as follows:

Human-centric (Principles 1 and 15)

Principle 1: Rights and Responsibilities for protecting the environment – Humans have the right to use and enjoy nature. The right to enjoy nature is not unfettered, it is coextensive with the duty to protect it. Art. 21 of the constitution also safeguards the fundamental right of a healthy environment. This principle also explicitly bars discriminatory laws.

Principle 15: Human settlement and Urbanization – Planned settlements and urbanization are required. They reduce the adverse effects on the environment. The goal is to secure maximum benefits for all through planning. All discriminatory plans are also barred.   

Sustainable development (Principles 2, 3, 4, 5, 13 and 14)

Principle 2: Duty to protect natural resources – Natural resources are limited. We must use natural resources carefully. Preservation of resources depends on effective planning and management.   

Principle 3: Duty to preserve renewable resources – Although renewable resources are not depletable, their preservation is necessary for their quality.    

Principle 4: Wildlife Conservation – A combination of factors is responsible for endangering wildlife. Humans have a special responsibility for protecting wildlife. The inclusion of conservation of wildlife in economic planning leads to sustainable development. 

Principle 5: Duty to preserve non-renewable resources – Non-renewable resources are exhaustible. They are valuable resources. Exercising care and caution is necessary to prevent them from depletion          

Principle 13: Rational Management of Resources – States should adopt rational methods to manage the resources and to improve the environment. An integrated and coordinated approach is preferable.  

Principle 14: Rational Planning – Conflicts between development and conservation are reconciled with rational planning. Development and conservation must go hand in hand.         

Reflection on customary international law position (Principle 21)

States have the absolute authority to use natural resources according to their policies. However, their policies shouldn’t violate the principles of international law and cause damage to other states outside its jurisdiction.

Preventive actions (Principles 6,7,8 and 18)

Principle 6: Management of pollution – Pollution is harmful to the environment. Discharging toxins and other substances in large quantities are harmful to the ecosystem. Both the citizens and the states should play an active role in reducing the dumping of harmful substances.

Principle 7: Management of sea pollution – The states should reduce sea pollution by taking necessary steps to prevent substances hazardous to human health, marine life, and the legitimate uses of seas.

Principle 8: Social and Economic development – The improvement of social and economic conditions is necessary for a better living and working environment. Improvements shouldn’t affect the environment in any way.

Principle 18: Application of science – Science and technology are indispensable in today’s life. They are used in almost every industry. Science and technology are also applicable to the conservation of the environment. It is useful for identifying and controlling environmental risks. They are useful for finding solutions for environmental issues.

Compensation to Victims (Principle 22)

The States should join to further the scope of international law for prescribing liability for those harming the environment. States should also come together to compensate victims of environmental pollution or damage.

Cooperation (Principles 24 and 25)

Principle 24: Cooperation with nations – Although each state has exclusive jurisdiction to legislate on internal matters, international cooperation is necessary for the holistic improvement of the environment. States must recognize that environmental problems affect all the states equally. By multilateral and bilateral agreements states can control, prevent, and reduce environmental risks.

Principle 25: Coordination with nations – Coordination between states is crucial for alleviating the existing conditions. The states can jointly coordinate actions and plans for improving existing environmental conditions.

Other principles

Principle 11: Environmental Policy – The environmental policy of every nation should be progressive. The policies of every state must enhance and complement each other. The policies shouldn’t restrict or adversely affect developing countries. National and international organizations should strive for better living conditions for all without affecting the environment.

Principle 19: Education in environmental matters – Education is one of the tools to spread awareness about the pathetic state of the environment. The underprivileged, poor, illiterate should have access to education. Education broadens the mind. Awareness about the existing conditions is necessary so that people can jointly tackle environmental matters.

Principle 20: Expanding scientific research – Researching and developing methods nationally and internationally is important to tackle environmental problems. There must exist a system where information and research can flow easily across nations. Countries must also control their spending on scientific research without burdening the economy.

Principle 9: Environmental Deficiencies – Natural disasters and underdevelopment lead to deficiencies. Navigating through such deficiencies is difficult. Requesting technological and financial assistance to supplement the local efforts leads to a quicker and effective remedy.

Principle 10: Stability of prices and incomes – Stability in the prices of essential commodities and stability of income is essential for the environmental management of developing countries. Economic factors are also part of the environmental process.

Principle 12: Education on environmental protection – Environmental protection is the need of the hour. Every citizen should understand the importance of environmental protection. Adoption of a suitable medium like social media, print media, etc is crucial to spread awareness about environmental protection. 

Principle 16: Population Control – In areas where the population is excessive and is likely to affect the environment, the states can implement policies to control the growth of the population. These policies shouldn’t violate basic human rights. In today’s world overpopulation is one of the major reasons for the depletion of natural resources.

Principle 17: Setting up of national institutions – States should establish national bodies for the control and management of environmental resources within the state.

Principle 23: Implementing a national agenda – The states may find that certain procedures and rules may not align the value system of the country. In that case, the states need not follow such a procedure. The states are also exempted if such procedures cause unwarranted social costs.

Principle 26: Ban on nuclear weapons – Nuclear weapons are the most destructive weapons. They cause more damage to the environment than any other weapon. All the nations should come together to ban nuclear weapons.

Effects of the convention

The Stockholm convention paved the way for other international conventions on the preservation of the environment such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, 1973. In the same line, the Parliament of India passed the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 to give effect to the Stockholm convention.

The Stockholm convention was the first convention to discuss environmental issues on a global scale. The declaration proclaims truths relating to man and the environment such as man is the creator and moulder of his surroundings. 

The declaration also reiterates the importance of preservation of the environment. It urges citizens to come together and protect the environment. The declaration recognizes humans as the greatest threat to the environment. Humans are responsible for almost all of the environmental destruction. Humans have altered the human environment also. 

The declaration discusses in detail the role of underdeveloped nations in environmental problems and urges them to reduce their negative impact on the environment. The industrial countries are not free from problems, but their problems relate to industrialization and technological development. 

The significance of humans and their contributions to the environment are also discussed in detail. The declaration recognizes the capability of humans to make strides in social progress and the use of science to make a better environment. Individuals have the responsibility to exercise care and precaution. Ignorant and careless actions lead to the destruction and deterioration of the environment. To take careful action, better awareness, and education about the protection of the environment are required. 

Governments are directed to control their internal actions by enacting and enforcing environmental laws and to coordinate with other nations and international agencies to mitigate the damage caused by pollution.


Problems and challenges

The declaration contains sound principles and beautiful proclamations, however, the wordings of the declaration are unclear and ambiguous at certain points. Almost 48 years since adopting the declaration the condition of the environment has worsened. 

The presence of CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) has increased by 26 percent since 1970. This results in greater global warming which has detrimental effects all around the globe. More than 700,000 of the Amazon rainforest were cleared for farming since the ’70s. The condition of other forested areas is not much better. 

Some estimates paint a darker picture, such as the number of fishes in the oceans has almost dropped by 50 %. The quality of the oceans is also not that great. These numbers and reports reveal the gap between planning and taking action. The way ahead is also not easy.

Taking action is the only way to tackle environmental depletion. The laws should adopt more stringent actions. No amount of conventions will help in environmental development unless people start taking action. We should realize the current situation and act cautiously.


The Stockholm declaration was the first truly global cooperation on environmental issues. The convention witnessed the participation of 114 countries. The agenda was to create a better international jurisprudence for environmental law. The declaration focused on setting environmental goals, reducing pollution, and damages to the environment. The declaration also recognizes the important role played by humans in changing the environment. The 26 principles in the declaration serve as a guiding light to the nations.

The declaration is not free from criticism. It has failed to include newer forms of pollution. It has not received the same kind of response from all the nations. The plan identifies underdeveloped nations as the key contributor to pollution, 48 years later they continue to pollute the environment without any significant change.

Despite its problems, the convention has created better awareness about the environment and the need to protect it. People are now better equipped to tackle problems like global warming and climate change. 

This UN conference laid the foundation for several other initiatives by the UN and other organizations around the world for the protection and preservation of the environment.


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