World Environment Day (WED) is marked globally on the 5th of June every year since 1972 when it was established by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA); it marked the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the human environment as well as the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The United Nations uses World Environment Day to create awareness and lobby political support for the environmental agenda among governments. Each year, UNEP formulates a global theme to guide World Environment Day activities based on a specific priority environmental issue.
In Kenya, WED was domesticated into the national laws through cabinet minute 136/84 of 1984. The event has since been used to promote environmental awareness among the citizenry and raise individual and corporate responsibility towards the environment.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, Sweden, from June 5–16 in 1972. Only One Earth was the motto for the Stockholm Conference; 50 years on, the motto holds true – this planet is our only home, whose finite resources humanity must safeguard. The United Nations Environment Programme, or UNEP, was created as a result of this conference.
Sweden first suggested to the United Nations Economic and Social Council ECOSOC in 1968 the idea of having a UN conference to focus on human interactions with the environment. ECOSOC passed resolution 1346 supporting the idea. General Assembly Resolution 2398 in 1969 decided to convene a conference in 1972 and mandated a set of reports from the UN secretary-general suggesting that the conference focus on “stimulating and providing guidelines for action by a national government and international organizations” facing environmental issues.
At the conference itself, divisions between developed and developing countries began to emerge, however, the conference the declaration, which was negotiated at the preparational talks, included a language the declaration regarding population as a threat to the environment and the cause of its degradation. In 1972, environmental governance was not seen as an international priority, particularly for the Global South.
Developing nations supported the creation of the UNEP, not because they supported environmental governance, but because of its headquarters’ location in Nairobi, Kenya, as the UNEP would be the first UN agency to be based in a developing country.
The meeting agreed upon a Declaration containing 26 principles concerning the environment and development, an Action Plan with 109 recommendations, and a Resolution.
One of the seminal issues that emerged from the conference is the recognition of poverty alleviation for protecting the environment. The Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in her seminal speech at the conference brought forward the connection between ecological management and poverty alleviation.
The Stockholm Conference motivated countries around the world to monitor environmental conditions as well as to create environmental ministries and agencies. Despite these institutional accomplishments, including the establishment of UNEP, the failure to implement most of its action program has prompted the UN to have follow-up conferences.
The succeeding United Nations Conference on Environment and Development convened in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (the Rio Earth Summit), the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, and the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) all take their starting point in the declaration of the Stockholm Conference. It has been argued that this conference, and more importantly the scientific conferences preceding it, had a real impact on the environmental policies. Such increased interest and research collaboration arguably paved the way for further understanding of global warming, which has led to such agreements as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement and has given a foundation of modern environmentalism.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022. Founded in 1972 following the landmark UN Conference on the Human Environment, UNEP was conceived to monitor the state of the environment, inform policy-making with science, and coordinate responses to the world’s environmental challenges.
Since its creation, UNEP has worked closely with its 193 Member States and other stakeholders to galvanize worldwide commitments and coordinate action to address many of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. It also played a leading role as the docking station for 15 multilateral environmental agreements. UNEP’s convening power and rigorous scientific research have provided a platform for countries to engage, act boldly and advance the global environmental agenda.
Having served as an authoritative advocate for the global environment since 1972, UNEP’s aim is to inspire, inform and enable nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.
Since Stockholm in 1972, global trade has grown tenfold, the global economy has grown nearly fivefold, and the world population has doubled. Human prosperity has on average doubled and development gains have been achieved, but about 1.3 billion people remain poor and at least some 700 million are hungry. The overall environmental situation globally is deteriorating and the window for effective remedial action is closing.
By recognizing the importance of multilateralism in tackling the Earth’s triple planetary crisis – climate, nature, and pollution – an International meeting Stockholm+50 organized by UNEP in close consultation with the co-hosts Kenya and Sweden. The meeting anchored in the Decade of Action, under the theme “Stockholm+50: a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity,” will act as a springboard to accelerate the implementation of the UN Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. The meeting further considered the 2030 Agenda, Paris Agreement on climate change, and the post-2020 global Biodiversity Framework, and encourage the adoption of green post-COVID-19 recovery plans. The meeting also reinforced the messages and the outcomes of the event to commemorate UNEP’s 50th anniversary (UNEP@50), which took place in March 2022, in Nairobi