50 years on from the Stockholm Environment Conference Are We Doing Enough to Tackle Climate Change?

This June two important environmental anniversaries will be marked by scientists and environmental activists.

50 years ago, on 5th June 1972, the UN conference on The Human Environment opened in Stockholm.

30 years ago on 3rd June 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, the UN conference on Environment Development opened.  This became known as The Earth Summit.

As we mark these two anniversaries, we should all ask ourselves the question.

Are we doing enough to tackle climate change?

The Human Environment Conference Stockholm (5-16 June 1972)

This conference agreed 26 principles that should be applied to the global environment [1]. These were designed to protect it for future generations.  It was a seminal moment.  It established the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP).  The work started at this conference evolved into the policy and legislation developed to tackle climate change and global warming.

The 26 principles include:

  • Protecting the environment for future generations.
  • Action on biodiversity.
  • Promoting environmental improvement.
  • Stopping, and tackling pollution in our rivers and seas.
  • The establishment of a global network of UN member states to address environmental concerns. [1]

The UN Conference on Environment and Development Rio de Janeiro (3-4 June 1992) ‘The Earth Summit’

The Rio conference is recognised as one of the most important environmental conferences the UN has ever.  This is underlined by it being described as The Earth Summit.

27 principles were adopted by the world’s governments to develop a sustainable world, putting Humans at the centre of all sustainable activities.

Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.’

(Principle 1 agreed at the Earth Summit Rio de Janeiro 3-14 June 1992 [2])

The main outcome of the earth summit was the adoption of Agenda 21 [3]. This is described in its’ preamble to

address the pressing problems of today and also aims to prepare the world for the challenges of the next century’.

It set the baseline for the development of sustainable development and laws to tackle climate change globally.

For business it promoted four main areas for actions:

  1. Promoting sustainable development through trade.
  2. Making trade and the environment mutually supportive.
  3. Providing adequate financial services to developing countries.
  4. Encouraging economic policies conducive to sustainable development.

Are we doing enough to tackle climate change?

Here in the UK, we have made a lot of progress in tackling global warming and promoting sustainability.  The Climate Change Act, introduced in 2008, pledged that by 2050 the UK would see a cut in emissions of 80%.  It established the climate change committee to monitor progress towards the target. The UK became the first country to put the achievement of the 2050 ‘Net Zero’ target into law.  Last year the new Environment act became law and is designed to:

  • Promote the transition to a more sustainable circular economy,
  • Protect biodiversity
  • Improve air and water quality.


However, the figures on carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere suggest that we still have a long way to go to halt global warming.  In 1972, at the time of the Stockholm Conference, atmospheric levels of CO2 were 355 parts per million (ppm).  20 years later at the time of the Rio summit they had risen to 360 ppm.  Today, 50 years on they are 412 ppm.  Scientists now feel that the chances of holding an increase in the global temperature to below 1.5oC are very low.

We are definitely not doing enough to tackle climate change.

Going forward we all need to embrace a sustainable lifestyle.  Every business must work toward reducing its environmental footprint, embracing the principles of the circular economy, and contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Only by really becoming sustainable can we ensure the world is secure for future generations.


  1. UN (1972) Report on the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, 5-16 June 1972.
  2. UN (1992a) Report of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro 3-14 June 1992
  3. UN (1992) Agenda 21, Rio De Janeiro, 3-14 June 1992.


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