In May 1971, the Czechoslovak capital hosted an international conference on the environment that brought together high-ranking government officials and scientists from both sides of the Iron Curtain. The idea to organize such an event reflected Czechoslovakia’s interest in environmental planning and was one of the main outcomes of the country’s science diplomacy in the field of global environmentalism in the late 1960s. Organized under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the meeting aimed to be an important stepping-stone in the formation of a new international institutional landscape related to the environment. UNECE, with its history of facilitating international cooperation across the Iron Curtain, provided an optimal platform for such an undertaking. Nonetheless, the Symposium on Problems Relating to Environment was overshadowed by the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the outcomes of which were instrumentalized by the Soviets to promote their own international policy aims associated with the Brezhnev Doctrine. Soviet authorities considered the environment to be a purely domestic issue and did not show much interest in pursuing international environmental cooperation. The “German Question” at the UN served as a Soviet instrument to pursue Soviet interests and resulted in the downgrading of the Prague meeting and a subsequent boycott of the Stockholm Conference by the entire Eastern Bloc. Based on a detailed analysis of materials produced by the event organizers (archived in Prague and Geneva), this paper shows how Cold War geopolitics played a decisive role in shaping emerging global environmentalism.

Open Access

Jiří Janáč, Doubravka Olšáková

19 October 2020

On the road to Stockholm: A case study of the failure of Cold War international environmental initiatives (Prague Symposium, 1971)