Home Considerations as Contribution to, and Beyond the Political Declaration

Considerations as Contribution to, and Beyond the Political Declaration

Donald W. Kaniaru
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The process preparing the political declaration is not mandated to negotiate a new global umbrella Convention. It would, however, acknowledge the direction and urge expeditious action on this important but missing instrument. In the new regime under consideration, cooperation rather than competition would be the principal objective, differently of global instruments that are on a stand-alone basis.


For close to fifty years, states, international organisations (intergovernmental and non-governmental) and professionals, have invested vast financial and human resources from the Stockholm Declaration in June 1972 to the present. The 26 principles that make up the Stockholm Declaration have been refined, considered and affirmed in different fora by jurists and publicists, reinforced by states, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Regional Tribunals, and selectively incorporated in agreements, global and regional conventions, and a body of multilateral and bilateral instruments and memoranda. The principles have been addressed in international covenants of global and regional import and consensus built around new and emerging principles that enrich and strengthen the body of principles aforementioned. During the decades following 1972 the Stockholm Declaration has been elaborated on in different scope and ways, among them:

  • The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (27 principles) June 1992.
  • The Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, 2002.
  • The outcome document on the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development entitled The Future we Want, Resolution 66/288, annex.

As the process of commemorating the five decades since the Stockholm Declaration is addressed at the moment, I see it benefitting from the enormous commitment, energy and determination to cap the future with a comprehensive and integrated umbrella global instrument in the field of the environment. We owe a lot to key players, all known to us, for persistently coming forward to ensure that humanity is definitely secured. The endeavors by France, United Nations, UNEP, IUCN, ICEL and Experts from across continents have devoted time and expertise to develop law as envisaged.

Time is running but we will reach the prize sooner than later. To those of us with more past and less future, the legacy we offload to the present and future generations is, as it should be, golden. Hence the considerations below.


Key Considerations

A lot has been done since the Stockholm Conference whose outcome comprised a Declaration of 26 principles and a programme of action and envisaged the establishment of the Secretariat of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) hosted in Kenya (Res 3004 (XXVII) of December 15, 1972). The political declaration would thus commemorate the past and chart the way forward.

An ambitious set of functions would look to a strengthened UNEP in financial resources to enable it to accomplish assigned tasks to one hundred years and beyond. Already the 5th UNEP ten years Montevideo Programme is adopted (UNEA 4/20) starting the decade of 2020.

The pivotal Stockholm principles have been applied in several instruments, and reinforced by subsequent Declarations, and implementation mechanisms all of which are reaffirmed in the past documents and are the foundation of the Declaration under preparation. The Draft Building Blocks of a Political Declaration by the co-chairs in the preamble-8 paragraphs and in the substantive portion – 33 paragraphs are rightly emphatic. Our immediate efforts should aim at an eventual development and negotiation of an umbrella and comprehensive new instrument springing from the Political Declaration within a defined time horizon by the international community of States, UN organs and other stakeholders.

In fact, the Global Pact for the Environment, 2017, wrapped up many existing principles, and fewer emerging ones not at present included in multilateral global agreements which ought to be carried forward in the next global instrument that should be forecast in the political Declaration. This ought to be unequivocally and expressly provided for as a major outcome following the adoption of the Declaration as stated above.

Several principles are already integral to recent global and regional conventions whether in preambles or in the body of the instruments after the Stockholm Conference and the Rio United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, including its Declaration, programme and Agenda 21. Thus the resultant conventions, agreements and protocols would complement the instrument that would consolidate the hitherto non-binding principles including emerging principles after the milestones of the past four decades: 1972 to 2012.

The process preparing the political declaration is not mandated to negotiate a new global umbrella Convention. It would, however, acknowledge the direction and urge expeditious action on this important but missing instrument. The presently existing such global instruments are on a stand-alone basis. But in the new regime under consideration, cooperation rather than competition would be the principal objective.

The new global Convention, at the apex of the hitherto uncodified principles, above, will fill a critical gap that has not yet been addressed despite our best endeavours.

Besides regional and subregional instruments, thousands of bilateral agreements and memoranda abound, and these also acknowledge and include the agreed principles. Equally at national level many national Constitutions and Statutes in all continents fully embrace many of the principles in environmental laws (polluter pays principle, sustainable development, precautionary principle, international cooperation; common but different responsibilities among others). Equally superior courts and tribunals at national level likewise issue rulings that presently constitute an impressive body of law, as is also the case with Courts and Tribunals at regional and subregional level.

A full background of material developed by states in different fora exist, as do instruments by groups of jurists in professional bodies like IUCN, ICEL, the work of the United Nations, International Law Commission (ILC), Asian African Legal Consultative Organisation (AALCO), among others. Indeed ICEL has pooled critical documentation to on-going processes, and declarations or international Covenants. For example, the International Covenant on Environment and Development, now in its 5th Edition.


Conclusion: On-going work

As hinted above, a lot of consultative work is desired among different players, sectors and processes in diverse ecosystems including atmospheric, maritime and terrestrial in which the international community is involved in the past decade(s).

States and their partners in United Nations, specialized Agencies, intergovernmental organisations, professional bodies, civil society – whether together or singly – have in the several decades under consideration expended or better, invested, in financial and human, intellectual resources, enormous resources in crafting, debating, assisting in preparation of principles that have fed into the body of environmental law. Efforts have also been made to consolidate what now is needed to capture the legacy of the founders and leaders of environmental movement – M.F. Strong, M.K. Tolba; Wangari Maathai; Wolfgang E. Burhenne; Francoise G. Burhenne, – among others who looked to such an instrument coming sooner.

We remain at all times ready to assist the states and its partners to accomplish their mission – not look inward to Covid-19 that has ruthlessly disturbed normalcy as we knew and enjoyed it– and to chart an enduring legacy for present and future generations. The challenge is and has been with us but our will to conquer is mature as well. Together, victory is within grasp in agreeing not only the Political Declaration but in eventually concluding the new global umbrella Convention.