The 1971 Prague Conference on Problems Related to Environment

In 1967, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe agreed to an invitation from the Czechoslovak government to hold a conference on environmental challenges in the ECE region. Due to political complications, it was later «downgraded» to a «mere» symposium, but when taking place in 1971, it assembled nonetheless «211 experts from 29 UNECE countries, and 75 observers from other countries as well as UN agencies and other international organizations» (Iris Borowy). Eclipsed by the UN conference in Stockholm a year later, the forgotten Prague conference deserves a place in environmental history for many reasons. First, it united the Eastern (which was absent at Stockholm) and Western industrialized countries to discuss environmental issues for which they were largely responsible, e.g. waste, consumerism, industrial, mining, and agricultural activities damaging to the environment, the state of the environment on a national level, environment-friendly technologies, and recycling. «For many countries it was the first time they had ever collected information on these questions» (I. Borowy). Despite differing economic systems, the symposium raised awareness about the costs of economic development, and served to propagate new ideas, including on the potential role of science and international cooperation for environmental policy, mitigating measures, as well as objectives and principles, like accountability, which should govern international environmental law and policies. Not least, one of the chief Czechoslovak organizers ended up as a key figure in the Brundtland Commission a decade later.

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