United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm


Presidency of the conferenceThe United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was first proposed to the Economic and Social Council in Geneva in 1968 by Ambassador Astrome on behalf of the Swedish government. It was to be a two-week world conference to address a single agenda item: the environment. The thought was that if the world's political leadership could be directed to consider only one subject for a short period of time, very constructive decisions could be made on that subject that would make a difference on the world scene. This model was so effective that, since 1972, the United Nations has hosted over twenty other world conferences in the economic and social field, for two-week periods, focusing only on a single agenda item.

Sweden - stamp UN Conference on the Human Environment 1972In December 1968 the General Assembly approved the Swedish proposal and the conference was scheduled for 1972. The United States government was very interested in hosting this conference and began organizing itself two and a half years before the scheduled date of the conference. The cost for hosting such a global gathering away from UN Headquarters in New York or Geneva approximated 3 million dollars. Preparations were being made by the State Department to ask the U.S. Congress for funds to host the conference when the Swedish government announced to the UN that it wanted to host the meeting. The UN quickly accepted Sweden's offer.


President Ingemund Bengtsson and secretary-general Maurice F. Strong at the closing of the Conference, 16 June 1972The Conference in Stockholm, from 5 to 16 June 1972, was the first time that attention was drawn to the need to preserve natural habitats to produce a sustained improvement in living conditions for all, and the need for international cooperation to achieve this. The emphasis was on solving environmental problems, but without ignoring social, economic and developmental policy factors.


That same year, the Club of Rome published its report on «The Limits to Growth», which attracted enormous attention in the climate of the Stockholm Conference and the oil crisis of the early 1970s.


The Stockholm Declaration that was adopted at the conference was formulated jointly by industrialized and developing countries. It contains principles of environmental protection and development, as well as practical recommendations for their implementation. It may be regarded as one of the foundation stones of the international policy that would come to be known as «sustainable development».


Lebanon - souvenir sheet UN Confernce on the Human Environment 1972The Conference led in the same year to the establishment of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), based in Nairobi, Kenya. A global monitoring system, Earthwatch, was also set up and has since been integrated into the UNEP.


President of the conference was Ingemund Bengtsson (1919-2000), the Swedish agriculture minister. Secretary-general was Maurice F. Strong from Canada. The photo shows Maurice Strong (left) with Ingemund Bengtsson at the closing of the Stockholm Conference on 16 June 1972 (photo: Pressens Bild AB; European Pressphoto Agencies Union).


The Conference recommended that the General Assembly should designate 5 June as World Environment Day.





BBC interview (1972) with Maurice Strong on the Stockholm Conference.

The final report of the UN Conference on the Human Environment.

Statement on the Conference by president Richard Nixon, 20 June 1972.

Essay: The road from Stockholm to Johannesburg by Lars-Göran Engfeldt (UN Chronicle).



Related subjects


United Nations Environment Programme

United Nations Conference on Environment and Development


World Environment Day



Stamp catalogue


Tunisia                        5 June 1972









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last revised: 5 July 2009