Provisions of Stockholm Declaration 1972

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Provisions of the Stockholm Declaration 1972


The concept of environmental protection is not limited to one country or region. Therefore, there was a growing need for international intervention in the world and various efforts were made to do so. The proposals and declarations made by those efforts were a major turning point in international environmental law. Among them is the Stockholm Convention of 1972, and the modern validity of the issues discussed, especially as far back as 1972, is important here. Therefore, this article seeks to discuss the provisions of the Stockholm Declaration, the most important environmental publication on 20th century environmental law, with the practicalities of the 21st century.

Preparation of the Basis for the Stockholm Declaration.

In 1968, the United Nations Economic and Social Council declared the importance of holding an international environmental conference. In response, in 1969, the United Nations General Assembly decided to hold this conference through Resolution 2398. The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, Sweden from 5 to 16 June 1972. The foundation of Stimulating and providing guidelines for action by national government and international organization on environmental issues faced was emphasized here. The Stockholm Declaration was issued based on 26 basic principles related to the fundamental issues discussed at the Stockholm Conference. There was a consideration of common principles on the need for a common vision to motivate and guide the peoples of the world to protect and improve the human environment.

Preface to the Stockholm Declaration

The preamble highlights seven key points, and it is hoped to emphasize that point and place more emphasis on its practical application.

  • “Man is the creator as well as the molder of the environment, which provides physical sustenance and opportunities for intellectual, social, moral and spiritual development…..” The first point covers a broad scope and argues that this point contains the essence of all the facts that are expected to be expressed through the Stockholm Declaration. Through this fact, the environment is always referred to as the human environment, so it is clear that throughout the declaration, environmental issues have been studied based on the man addressed.
  • “Protecting and improving the human environment is a responsibility of every government as it affects the well-being and economy of people around the world.” That is, through the Stockholm declaration, not only the people are responsible but also the governments have a great responsibility. Assigning such a responsibility is important for environmental protection, as a state has the ability to make policy decisions to some extent.
  • Although progress could be made through innovation, inventions and inventions, it adapted to the Earth’s ecological balance. This point emphasizes the need for a state to make effective use of scientific and technological advances and discusses a methodology to minimize the irreversible damage to the environment through misuse and careless use.
  • While developing countries need to focus on environmental protection in meeting their basic needs, industrialized countries should try to bridge the gap between developing countries. In the modern world, developed countries are divided into developing countries and underdeveloped countries, so it is not appropriate for every country to use the same amount of work for environmental protection. Therefore, it is timely to state that a work plan should be set for the protection of the environment based on the comforts and capacity of each country and those other countries should support it.
  • With the continued natural growth of the population, adequate policies must be followed on issues related to environmental protection. Social progress, the advancement of production, the ability of human beings to develop the environment with science and technology were discussed here.
  • It has been pointed out that human negligence and indifference alone is a great and irreversible damage on which our lives and well-being depend. The need to protect and improve the human environment for present and future generations was revealed.
  • While it is the responsibility of each institution to achieve these goals, the international community must assist developing countries in achieving those goals. Environmental issues affect not only the state or region but also the international community, so the international community must act to meet common interests.

A detailed discussion of the 26 basic principles emphasized through the Stockholm Declaration.

Principle 1 – Right to Protect Environment 

Emphasizes the fundamental right to freedom, equality and a decent standard of living in a quality environment of dignity and well-being. It is clear that the concept of Inter Generation Equality, which is widely discussed in modern times, has been used here for discussion, as it has been stated that such well-being should be ensured not only for the present community but also for the future community. The first words of this doctrine emphasize the fact of freedom and equality, and the few words that are at the heart of this doctrine shed light on it.

That is, freedom for a quality environment, equality should be enjoyed without racism, racial discrimination, discrimination or any other form of discrimination. The progressive nature of this is even more evident today than ever before, as society is divided. But since the environment and its elements provide all the elements necessary for human existence in common with all that is “human”, there can be no difference. It can be argued, therefore, that one of the purposes here may be to expose the need to act as a collective effort rather than to help protect the fragmented environment.

Principle 2 – Management of Natural Resources 

Appropriate management of samples of natural systems, including air, water, land, flora and fauna, which are considered natural resources, is discussed here. This is an area that is being challenged with current scientific and technological advances. This is due to the fact that human understanding of the scope of the subject of the environment is at a very low level. That is, man pays some attention to plants, but he does not have a proper understanding of the soil and soil components, the density of the air, and the location of airborne particles.

According to an assessment of the quality of water resources in Latin America, Africa and Asia in 2016, the quality of world water resources is at a low level and is said to be affected by pathogenic pollution, organic pollution and salinity pollution. Accordingly, the world has been given time to rethink based on this principle.

Principle 3 – Management of Renewable Resources 

This principle discusses the production and maintenance of essential renewable resources. Renewable energy produces clean energy and minimizes environmental pollution. Therefore, it has the potential to mitigate climate change. But under industrialization, more emphasis has been placed on generating energy from non-renewable resources because it is at a commercially advantageous level. But its environmental damage is questionable.

Biomass energy, grid power, solar power and wind power belong to this category of renewable resources. According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy website, India has achieved these goals. That is, India has now reached the fifth place globally in terms of renewable energy capacity.

In the context of Sri Lanka, the establishment of the “Thambapawani Wind Power Plant” in December 2020 is a positive opportunity based on the existing natural environment in the Mannar area. It has the potential to prevent 288,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere each year, contributing to the achievement of environmental goals. Accordingly, it can be positively argued that renewable resources are being used more productively in the technologically advanced world.

Principle 4 – Conservation of Wildlife 

Man has a responsibility to protect and maintain the wildlife heritage. It is also important to note that the conservation of wildlife and nature is also important in planning economic development. It can be argued that this is an environmental thinking about environmental protection. It is important to pay attention to this fact as the forest cover is gradually declining in the process of land acquisition for development activities in the face of modern development activities.

The most powerful legal provisions have been established in India through the 1972 Wildlife (Protection) Act, as amended in 2006. Among them are prohibiting hunting, protection of wildlife ecosystems, and the establishment of protected areas. Considered Sri Lanka as a wildlife policy, it is referred to as the “conservation of wildlife heritage for present and future generation”. But the extent to which this is happening in practice is confirmed by the problems associated with deforestation.

Principle 5 – Management of Non-Renewable Resources

Since non-renewable resources are at risk of depletion, it is important to protect it and ensure that its benefits are shared among all human beings.

As these are limited resources, they are subject to depletion with consumption. Examples are oil, natural gas and coal. The problem is that these resources take a long time to restore but take very little time to consume. Therefore, if not sustainable use, these resources will not be available for future use. Therefore, those resources should be used on a proper policy basis. But the problem here is not paying attention to the huge damage to the environment caused by the use of non-renewable resources. For example, the use of non-renewable energy releases gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the environment, which is a cause of global warming.

Principle 6 – Pollution Control

It has been suggested that the discharge of toxic fluid or the release of heat should be stopped in such a way as to exceed the capacity of the hop, which is harmful to the ecosystem. It also states that support should be given to the just struggles of the aggrieved parties under such corruption. Discussing this principle in connection with the explosion at the Bhopal power plant in India, the environmental damage caused by high concentrations of toxic gases was incalculable. Twelve years after the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration in 1972, this tragedy has reminded all parties to pay attention to this principle.

Principle 7 – Prevention of Pollution of Seas

Governments must take every possible step to prevent damage to marine pollution by liquids that could harm human health as well as wildlife and marine life. Like India, Sri Lanka is one of the two states located in the Indian Ocean to reap huge economic benefits from the oceans. But there are both positive and negative arguments about the importance it gives to the environment.

In the case of S. Jagannath vs Union of India and Ors (1996), marine pollution was discussed in the context of the Stockholm Declaration. As Sri Lanka is a sea lock state, it has a coastline around the country but Sri Lanka also has a high level of marine pollution. There have been a number of tragic incidents of ocean pollution in Sri Lanka in recent years, most notably the dumping of rubbish on the tourist hotspot of Mount Lavinia. The Ocean Conservancy estimates that over 150 million metric tons of plastic are currently circulating in the ocean, while another eight million metric tons are added annually.

In addition, the illegal methods used for fishing and the destruction caused by coral reefs are noteworthy, and the recent destruction of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is a sensitive moment.  All of these actions are man-made and cause harm not to humans but to other marine life.

Principle 8 – Economic and Social Development

Creating economic and social development to create the conditions necessary to ensure a living standard and environment that is beneficial to human beings. This principle is focused solely on man and it is questionable whether such a situation should be developed as a principle. That is to say, the study of all the other principles and critiques associated with it confirms that man has prepared the environment necessary for his high standard of living. But it is questionable how much attention has been paid to other aspects of the environment.

Principle 9 – Underdevelopment and Natural Disaster 

Financial and technical assistance should be provided to alleviate the problems caused by underdevelopment and scarcity caused by natural disaster situations. But the problem is that modern tendencies have the potential to influence the sovereignty of developing countries through the relevant aid process.

Principle 10 – Stability of Prices of Primary Commodities

Awareness of economic and environmental factors in developing countries has made it important to ensure price stability, and adequate earnings for primary commodities and raw materials are important for environmental management.

Principle 11 – Environmental Policies

It states that environmental policies should be developed within the States and that appropriate action should be taken by governments and international organizations to ensure a better standard of living. In the Constitution of Sri Lanka as well as in India, the Constitution emphasizes the protection of the fundamental principles of guiding state policy in the Constitution.

Examples are Article 48 (A) of the Constitution of India and Article 28 (14) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. But to the extent that these conditions cannot be enforced before the courts, the modern trend is for judges to adopt a more progressive interpretation of environmental issues and apply these principles as well. Examples are the decision of the Vellore Citizen Forum vs Union of India and the case of Ravindra Gunawardhana Kariyawasam vs Central Environmental Authority decided by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.

Principle 12 – Environment Protection Education

It has been stated that international technical and financial assistance should be provided for the development plan and environmental protection of developing countries by providing the necessary resources.

Principle 13 – Rational Management of Resources

Environmental protection must be consistent with development and improvement activities. It is important to strike a balance between economics and the most appropriate measures to balance the benefits of development with the damage to the environment. The idea that development is sustainable development is being put forward today, but despite the different level of definition of the word development in 1972, it is more positive to link development to the environment.

The modern tendency here is for the judiciary to act as the protector of the people’s environmental rights, as environmental rights are also included under the principle of fundamental rights. Therefore, orders were issued to prevent executive and administrative officials from attempting to cause undue harm to the environment in the name of development. The Intellectuals Forum, Thirupathi vs State of Andra Pradesh and ors case can be cited as an example in relation to India.

Principle 14 – Rational Planning

There is a need for a logical tool to resolve any conflict between development and environmental protection. The need for such a tool is to allow the authorities to prevent undue environmental damage in the name of development as needed. That is, officials are given the discretionary power to carry out development work but it cannot harm the environment. The concept of development, on the other hand, cannot be ruled out. Therefore the most effective option between these two should be chosen.

It should be considered socio-economically as well as environmentally. It is significant that the judiciary has been given an opportunity to balance this, especially through the public interest litigation that has developed around India and spread around the world.

Principle 15 – Human Settlement

Human settlements and urbanization must be designed to prevent adverse effects on the environment and to maximize benefits for all. Human settlements and urbanization must be designed to prevent adverse effects on the environment and to maximize benefits for all.

Environmental pollution can be seen in every sector with urbanization and it can be discussed in association with India as follows. Major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta have high levels of air pollution. The potential for waste collection into the environment is high due to the existing weakness in urban waste management policies. Many countries in the world have focused on the concept of Smart Cities, but it can be recommended that its primary purpose should be to be environmentally friendly.

Principle 16 – Human Population

It has been shown that population growth rate and high population density adversely affect the human environment and development. This principle can be discussed in conjunction with the above principle. Many countries in the world have turned to population control and management policies.

In 2019, a proposal was made to control the population of India by introducing the Population Control Bill. The result of the continued growth of the population in particular is that the existing resources are not sufficiently distributed among the people. Therefore, the process of acquiring different types of resources can be harmful to the environment. In relation to Sri Lanka, steps were taken to clear the historically valuable Vilapattu forest and build settlements there, and the respondents justified the action by providing housing to the people. But the court rejected this argument outright.

Principle 17 – Setting of Environmental Pollution Control Agencies at National Level

Empowering national institutions to design, control and manage environmental resources in a manner appropriate to improving the quality of the environment is discussed. This is an attempt to involve all parties in the task of protecting the environment and to extend it to the grassroots level. According to section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act (1986) of India, the central government has the power to take action to protect and improve the environment. However, as stated in section 3 (2) (i), such acts have the potential to involve the State Government, officials and other authorities.

In relation to Sri Lanka, the Central Environmental Authority acts as the pilot body for the protection of the environment and, in line with the Concurrent List of the Ninth Schedule to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Environmental Protection is a scope with concurrent powers.

Principle 18 – Use of Science and Technology

It states that science and technology should be used as part of economic and social development to identify, control, prevent, solve problems and use them for the common good of mankind. In modern times, the precautionary principle has been applied to environmental protection, as shown here, in the early detection of environmental damage and steps to prevent it.

Advances in science and technology can be used to develop this principle. If used more effectively, science and technology is an environmental protection tool, and if used in a negative way, it is the source of environmental destruction. The primary damage to the environment in 21st century science and technology is the impact of electronic waste. These take a long time to decompose, so the impact on the environment is high.

Principle 19 – Education in Environmental Matters 

It is stated that in order to protect and improve the environment, an intelligent opinion must be built among the communities. This is important for everyone, young and old, both privileged and uneducated.

Principle 20 – Further Scientific Research

Scientific research on environmental issues should be conducted in both national and multinational sectors. Any damage to the environment is not limited to the borders of that country but affects the whole world. Take, for example, the situation surrounding the Chernobyl disaster in Russia. That is, the environmental damage done to a state has created negative social, economic and environmental consequences for that country as well as for the entire world.

Therefore, every state should support research based on up-to-date scientific knowledge so that future environmental damage on that forecasting process can be minimized by providing data on environmental issues in an orderly and accurate manner.

Principle 21 – Rights and Responsibility of Sovereign Nation

States have the sovereign right to use their resources in accordance with their environmental policies, but they must ensure that it does not harm any other state or territory beyond the jurisdiction of the national judiciary.

That is, on the concept of sovereignty, states have some rights as well as some responsibilities. This issue has been discussed in Trails Smelter Arbitration and New Zealand vs France. This concept has been emphasized in many international legal provisions since the inception of the Stockholm Declaration. An example is the 2nd principle of the Rio Declaration. This concept of responsibility is also affirmed through the Latin term sic utere tuo in international law.

Principle 22 – Development of International Law

It has been stated that international law should be developed to provide compensation to the victims of pollution and those affected by environmental damage. There are various methods to be followed in determining the amount of compensation based on the changes in values that occur over time, especially since one has to go beyond just paying compensation for the environmental damage and many more. The polluter pay principle is one of the most successful methods used in recent times in Sri Lanka as well as in the world.

Principle 23 – Implementation of Agenda by Every Country 

Criteria that can be agreed upon by the international community should be considered in a way that is relevant to the system in each country. That is, the proposed methods for developed countries are not suitable for developing countries. Therefore, it is necessary to find the methodology that best suits each country.

Principle 24 – International Cooperation

All countries must treat every aspect of environmental protection on an equal footing. It states that all states should work on the basis of sovereignty and work in a bilateral or multilateral manner. Examples are the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), which was created as a result of this conference, is unique in that it coordinates and monitors United Nations environmental activities.

Principle 25 – Coordinated and Dynamic Role

Ensuring that international organizations play a formal role in protecting and improving the environment.

Principle 26 – Ban on Nuclear Weapons

It called for the elimination of such weapons to eliminate the impact on the environment and mankind from nuclear weapons and other destructive means, and for states to work for speedy international conventions. This issue has been discussed in the Nuclear Test Case (1995) and the arguments presented by Judge Weeramanthri using the precautionary principle are important here.


One of the main criticisms of the Stockholm Declaration is that it is considered from a human perspective rather than a bio-centric factor. But over time, the 1972 threshold was not the time to study environmental concepts more deeply than it is today. It is therefore more important to emphasize environmental issues at this level. It later laid the groundwork for several conferences that dealt more deeply with environmental issues. Examples include the Rio Conference in 1992, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2002, and the Rio + 20 Conference in 2012. It can be said that the basis for the discussion of the most logical environmental issues in modern times was laid through this Stockholm Declaration.

Author: Tharuka Hettiarachchi,
Faculty of Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

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