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CHRG Seminar Series 2022 – Alessandro Antonello – Wednesday 24 August 11am

Australia, the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment, and the ‘One Earth’ moment

General view of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHS) in Stockholm on June 5, 1972. (Photo by -/PRESSENS BILD/AFP via Getty Images)

In June 1972, 114 nations gathered in Stockholm for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. It was the first major international conference dealing with the subject of ‘the environment’, the culmination of an initiative begun by Sweden at the UN in 1968. The tenor of this moment was articulated in the title of Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos’ report to the conference: “Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet”. The Stockholm conference encapsulated major scientific and geopolitical developments of the preceding five to ten years, as well as setting a direction for international environmental action for years to come (a poorly timed agenda given the massive changes in international political economy in the years to come). Australia, with its world-leading scientists and unique, continent-sized ecosystem, participated in the Stockholm processes. This paper will explore how Australia responded to the 1968 Swedish initiative, how it sought to shape the conceptual and procedural frameworks of the conference, the interplay of domestic and international dynamics in these processes (including the formation of the first federal environment department), and the place of the conference in the larger history of Australia’s foreign relations. The paper will also touch upon how international histories might be reconceived with insights from the environmental humanities and posthumanities.


Alessandro Antonello is a senior research fellow in history at Flinders University, Adelaide. He is the author of The Greening of Antarctica: Assembling an International Environment (Oxford University Press, 2019) and numerous other articles and book chapters on the environmental and international history of the Antarctic and other global environmental themes, including oceans and the cryosphere, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

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