The Conference was the outcome of a proposal made by President Harry S. Truman through the US representative on the United Nations Economic and Social Council in September 1946. President Truman envisaged an exchange of thought and experience among experts who would not necessarily represent the views of the government of their nations, but would be selected to cover topics within their competence on the basis of their individual experience and studies [ Proceedings of the United Nations Scientific Conference on the Conservation and Utilization of Resources, vol. 1, New York, United Nations, 1950, page vii]. The need for such an exchange, President Truman wrote, was never greater. Warfare has taken a heavy toll of many natural resources; the rebuilding of the nations and the industrialization of under-developed areas will require an additional large depletion of them ... Conservation can become a major basis for peace. Modern science has itself become a major international resource which facilitates the use of other resources. Their adequate utilization can become a major basis of world prosperity. In subsequent consultations on the agenda for the Conference discussion of atomic energy was excluded as being the province of the Atomic Energy Commission; Certain items relating to irrigation problems should be added, it was suggested, in its place. The conference programme also touched on nature conservation, and sessions were scheduled so as to enable delegates to UNSCCUR and to the concurrent UNESCO/IUPN Conference on the Conservation of Nature to attend both conferences.
Solly Zuckerman was Deputy Chairman of the UK delegation to the Conference, which was led by Sir Harold Hartley, and presided over one plenary session, on 24 August 1949.