Pollution does not recognise borders. Many serious pollutants eventually pass national borders, are trans-boundary, and even spread globally. Protection of the environment therefore requires international co-operation. This was understood from the outset by the environmental movement. The first global environmental conference, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, was convened on 5 June 1972 in Stockholm. This day in June is now yearly celebrated as the World Environment Day. The motto of the Conference "Only One Earth," was a revolutionary concept for its time, but is today well established as a starting point for international co-operation on the global scale.
The 1972 conference led to the formation of the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, and a series of other initiative on a national or regional level. One of them was the co-operation in the Baltic Sea Region, the Helsinki Convention on the protection of the Baltic Sea, and the commission overlooking the convention, HELCOM.
On a European scale, 1972 was also a year of beginnings. The first environmental initiatives within the European Community started at this time and in the following year the First European Environmental Programme was written. Environmental work in the European context was initially based on economic co-operation and not until much later did it achieve a status of its own in the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties.
The second large UN conference for environment, the UNCED Conference in Rio in 1992 formed the basis for co-operation during the 1990s. In Rio, environmental issues were brought together with development and the concept of sustainable development gained momentum. In parallel a new convention for the Baltic Sea was agreed on in 1992.
The international agenda for the environment is increasing in importance every day. Negotiations on how to deal with for example decreased biodiversity, climate change, ozone depletion, desertification, and use of chemicals have led to extensive obligations for the nations of the world. Economic development can no longer go on without concern for the environment. The international agenda for the environment influences the life of everyone: it determines the price for gasoline, where we can build summer houses, and what food we can buy.
This chapter will describe how international co-operation for the environment has developed and where it stands today. Development is rapid and readers can find updates on the Websites listed at the end of the chapter.