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 national government and international organizations" facing environmental issues. Preparations for the conference were extensive, lasting 4 years, including 115 governments, and costing over $30,000,000.
At the conference itself, divisions between developed and developing countries began to emerge. The Chinese delegation proved hostile to the United States at the conference, issuing a 17-point memorandum condemning United States policies in Indochina, as well as around the world. This stance emboldened other developing countries, which made up 70 of the 122 countries attending. Multiple countries including Pakistan, Peru, and Chile issued statements that were anti-colonial in nature, further worrying the United States delegation. So harsh was the criticism that Rogers Morton, at that time secretary of the interior, remarked "I wish the Russians were here", to divert the attention of the Chinese criticisms.
One of the seminal issues that emerged from the conference is the recognition for poverty alleviation for protecting the environment. The Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in her seminal speech in the conference brought forward the connection between ecological management and poverty alleviation.
Some argue that this conference, and more importantly the scientific conferences preceding it, had a real impact on the environmental policies of the European Community (that later became the European Union). For example, in 1973, the EU created the Environmental and Consumer Protection Directorate, and composed the first Environmental Action Program. 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.
^Björn-Ola Linnér and Henrik Selin The Thirty Year Quest for Sustainability: The Legacy of the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment, Paper presented at Annual Convention of International Studies Association, Portland, Oregon, USA, February 25 – March 1, 2003, as part of the panel “Institutions and the Production of Knowledge for Environmental Governance” (co-author Henrik Selin).p. 3
John McCormick, The Global Environmental Movement (London: John Wiley, 1995) wow