Agenda 21 Summary

Agenda 21, was the global plan adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development on 14 June 1992. Here is the conference statement, press release and evaluation, two years later.
This page contains three documents:

–Press Summary of Agenda 21
–Congress Statement: “The Rio Declaration”
–Press Release: “Rio Two Years On–a Strong Reaction”

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August 1992

United Nations
Department of Public Information

Press Summary of Agenda 21
(based on the final text)

On 22 December 1989, the United Nations General Assembly called for a global meeting that would devise strategies to halt and reverse the effects of environmental degradation “in the context of increased national and international efforts to promote sustainable and environmentally sound development in all countries.”

Agenda 21, adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development on 14 June 1992, is the international community’s response to that request. It is a comprehensive programme of action to be implemented “from now and into the twenty-first century” by Governments, development agencies, United Nations organizations and independent sector groups in every area where human (economic) activity affects the environment. The programme should be studied in conjunction with the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the principles for the sustainable management of forests. These were also adopted at the Conference, known as the Earth Summit, which was held from 3 to 14 June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Underlying Agenda 21 is the notion that humanity has reached a defining moment in its history. We can continue our present policies which serve to deepen the economic divisions within and between
countries; which increase poverty, hunger, sickness and illiteracy worldwide; and which are causing the continued deterioration of the ecosystem on which we depend for life on Earth.

Or we can change course. We can improve the living standards of those who are in need. We can better manage and protect the ecosystem and bring about a more prosperous future for us all. “No nation can
achieve this on its own,” states Mr. Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the Conference, in the preamble to Agenda 21. “Together we can in a global partnership for sustainable development.”

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This press summary is not an official document. It has been issued to help journalists become familiar with the programme adopted by Governments. It was prepared by the Communications and Project Management Division, Department of Public Information, as part of the United Nations information programme on sustainable development.

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Congress Statement:
The Rio Declaration:

Distr. GENERAL A/CONF.151/26 (Vol. I)
12 August 1992
(Rio de Janeiro, 3-14 June 1992)

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development,

Having met at Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992,

Reaffirming the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, adopted at Stockholm on 16 June 1972, and seeking to build upon it,

With the goal of establishing a new and equitable global partnership through the creation of new levels of cooperation among States, key sectors of societies and people,

Working towards international agreements which respect the interests of all and protect the integrity of the global environmental and developmental system,

Recognizing the integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our home,

Proclaims that:

Principle 1
Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.

Principle 2
States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations andjthe principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

Principle 3
The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.

Principle 4
In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.

Principle 5
All States and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world.

Principle 6
The special situation and needs of developing countries, particularly the least developed and those most environmentally vulnerable, shall be given special priority. International actions in the field of environment and development should also address the interests and needs of all countries.

Principle 7
States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem. In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.

Principle 8
To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.

Principle 9
States should cooperate to strengthen endogenous capacity-building for sustainable development by improving scientific understanding through exchanges of scientific and technological knowledge, and by enhancing the development, adaptation, diffusion and transfer of technologies, including new and innovative technologies.

Principle 10
Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.

Principle 11
States shall enact effective environmental legislation. Environmental standards, management objectives and priorities should reflect the environmental and developmental context to which they apply. Standards applied by some countries may be inappropriate and of unwarranted economic and social cost to other countries, in particular developing countries.

Principle 12
States should cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system that would lead to economic growth and sustainable development in all countries, to better address the problems of environmental degradation. Trade policy measures for environmental purposes should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade. Unilateral actions to deal with environmental challenges outside the jurisdiction of the importing country should be avoided. Environmental measures addressing transboundary or global environmental problems should, as far as possible, be based on an international consensus.

Principle 13
States shall develop national law regarding liability and compensation for the victims of pollution and other environmental damage. States shall also cooperate in an expeditious and more determined manner to develop further international law regarding liability and compensation for adverse effects of environmental damage caused by activities within their jurisdiction or control to areas beyond their jurisdiction.

Principle 14
States should effectively cooperate to discourage or prevent the relocation and transfer to other States of any activities and substances that cause severe environmental degradation or are found to be harmful to human health.

Principle 15
In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Principle 16
National authorities should endeavour to promote the internalization of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments, taking into account the approach that the polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution, with due regard to the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment.

Principle 17
Environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument, shall be undertaken for proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority.

Principle 18
States shall immediately notify other States of any natural disasters or other emergencies that are likely to produce sudden harmful effects on the environment of those States. Every effort shall be made by the international community to help States so afflicted.

Principle 19
States shall provide prior and timely notification and relevant information to potentially affected States on activities that may have a significant adverse transboundary environmental effect and shall consult with those States at an early stage and in good faith.

Principle 20
Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development.

Principle 21
The creativity, ideals and courage of the youth of the world should be mobilized to forge a global partnership in order to achieve sustainable development and ensure a better future for all.

Principle 22
Indigenous people and their communities and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development.

Principle 23
The environment and natural resources of people under oppression, domination and occupation shall be protected.

Principle 24
Warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. States shall therefore respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further development, as necessary.

Principle 25
Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible.

Principle 26
States shall resolve all their environmental disputes peacefully and by appropriate means in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Principle 27
States and people shall cooperate in good faith and in a spirit of partnership in the fulfillment of the principles embodied in this Declaration and in the further development of international law in the field of sustainable development.

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United Nations Conference for Environment and Development (UNCED)

Rio Two Years On: A Strong Reaction
by Joe Kirwin

NAIROBI, May 1994 (UNEP) “Will this summit merely be a high point in our expressions of good intentions and enthusiasm and excitement, or will it be the start of a process of a fundamental change which we absolutely need? … Let’s be realistic … the road from Rio is going to be more difficult than the road to Rio.”

Secretary-General Maurice Strong uttered those words two years ago at a press conference on a Sunday morning on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. It was obvious the Canadian diplomat did not let the heady cocktail of exhaustion and euphoria cloud his judgement. Like an explorer who had spent two years trying to plot the course to an Atlantis–like world of sustainable development, Strong was confident the route had been charted. But the pitfalls and other perils of the journey ahead were all too clear.

Two years on and, as usual, Strong’s foresight proved to be more accurate than he could imagine. “The momentum of Rio has been lost at the government level and the fundamental changes needed to head off impending disaster are no closer to reality than they were two years ago in fact things have gone backwards if anything”, says Strong, who now heads the Costa Rica-based Earth Council, which has been set up to independently monitor Rio’s follow-up, and is Chairman of Ontario Hydro in Canada. “In the South there has been some increase in living standards in some places such as Asia and parts of South America but it is with the same old unsustainable ways.”

As Strong and others would admit, there has been some progress in areas of policy. Climate change, nuclear waste dumping at sea and biological diversity are but three important ones. It is now obvious that Rio marked a Rubicon of sorts when it comes to coupling environment and development as well as involving non-governmental organizations.

A shift in attitude

Another spot in an otherwise cloudy future is a shift in attitude on the part of two of the world’s crucial players: the United States and China. Both Washington, due to the Clinton-Gore Administration, and Beijing, with their new comprehensive national Agenda 21 plan, seem much more receptive to the concept of sustainable development. However, it remains to be seen how these new attitudes translate into action.

Then there are those crucial issues such as finance, including the restructuring of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and technology transfer that seem to underpin to the whole sustainable development process, and that are far from being resolved. Ditto for the issue of consumption and of lifestyle patterns, which are crucial factors in the lopsided ratio that marks the difference between life in the North and the South. Indeed the recession in the world economy in the past two years has proved just how difficult squaring that equation has been and will be.

Counting the cost

In fact, the deepening world recession added a major and somewhat unexpected roadblock months after Heads of States and delegates left Brazil and returned home with grand plans for achieving sustainable development. In addition, the cost of placing peace-keepers in various international hotspots such as Bosnia and Somalia has left the till empty when it comes to new funding for financing what the UNCED Secretariat estimated would be a US$125 billion per annum price tag for implementing the 40 chapters of Agenda 21.” Instead it is basically a sum zero game when it comes to new money”, said Cliff Curtis, an international policy advisor with Greenpeace.

“There was approximately $4-$5 billion pledged in Rio in new funds and very little if any of that has materialized.” Nowadays many international financial experts who have worked closely with the financial issue concede that the crucial question is no longer “new” money.”

The question now is making use of existing money in the most efficient way”, says Hussein Abaza, chief economist and headof UNEP’s Economics and Environment Unit. “This is especially true when it comes to making the best possible use of money spent by various United Nations agencies as well as bilateral and multilateral development institutions. It is also equally true when it comes to the policy reforms required to be introduced to ensure the sustainability of implemented activities and programmes.”

As Abaza is quick to point out, the financial crunch that has plagued implementation of sustainable development in the South is, if anything, worse today than it was two years ago.” In many cases today, the economies of the South are being strangled on the one hand by World Bank and IMF reforms which have not proved to have passed the sustainability criteria; by debt burden and unfair international economic relations”, Abaza explained. “On the other hand there are unfair terms of trade, including the use of policy instruments such as subsidies, that have distorted commodity prices and the competitiveness of developing countries in the international market.”

“Let’s face it, the funding for subsequent sustainable development will not be resolved until there is a level playing field in the global marketplace”, Abaza added. “Capacity-building in the developing world is a great idea and very fashionable but two things have to happen. Subsidies must be removed and the GATT negotiations last year proved how difficult that will be. Also environmental and social costs of products should be internalized to reflect their real costs and to make sure the full value of the commodity is borne by the consumer and producer.”

At recent workshops and at the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) intersessional meetings on the finance issue, economic instruments especially in the form of “green taxes” in both developed and developing nations, have been pinpointed as a likely way to raise needed funds for sustainable development. The latest green tax proposed would slap a levy on airlines.

“The possibility of reforming national taxation systems to shift the bulk of the tax burden from labour, capital and income towards the use of natural resources should be considered”, stated a policy paper distributed at a recent CSD meeting.

Technology transfer and the concomitant intellectual property rights issue have proved to be only slightly less difficult. Workshops held in Norway and another held in Colombia, jointly sponsored with the United States, provided numerous options. These included clearinghouses, referral services, exchange programmes, “one-stop shops”, build-operate-transfer schemes and technology rights banks. But first more research and development is needed when it comes to pinpointing environmentally sound technologies.

“This is where clean technology and life cycle analyses come into play”, says Nay Htun, who until recently was Deputy Executive Director of UNEP and a former member of the UNCED Secretariat. “There is a lot of work in this field now but there still is a long way to go.” One quick solution, according to Abaza, would be providing appropriate technology in place of aid money.

“So much aid comes in the form of technology, which worked in the donor nation but collapse in the developing world after a year or two”, Abaza said. “That has happened for various reasons. Either it was the wrong technology to begin with or it wasn’t properly supported with necessary training and maintenance services. It’s like a heart or a lung transplant. It can easily be rejected.”

An example where an existing technology could be transferred in the form of aid to Africa is solar energy”, Abaza said. “In Africa the potential is vast because the conditions are right. But how many solar panels do you see? Not too many.”Many Governments and NGOs from the developed world cite political corruption as a barrier to a breakthrough on not only technology transfer but other economic and environment reforms. But others, such as Abaza, counter those arguments.”Sure there is corruption but it works both ways”, he says. “It is just as corrupt for developed nations to give aid and say it must be spent on A, B or C all of which will benefit companies from the donor nation.”

Treaties ratified

The 21st of December 1993 marked an historic day in the aftermath of Rio. On that day the 50th ratification of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was received at UN Headquarters in New York and allowed the treaty to go into effect in March 1994. But the problems of implementation have become all too clear.

There was a general agreement at an Intergovernmental Negotiating-Committee (INC) meeting held in February this year that there is a need for further reduction of greenhouse gases than that already called for in the treaty.”

The meeting in February basically answered the question of whether the treaty needs to be strengthened”, said Scott Hajost, an international attorney with the American-based Environmental Defence Fund. Now the debate begins of how and when. As preparations for next year’s first convening of the parties continues, political battles in Western capitals have proved how difficult this will be.

In Europe, where nations pushed for cutbacks to greenhouse gases in the pre-Rio days, the treaty has yet to be ratified due to disagreements between northern and southern European nations on burden-sharing. Also a proposed European Union (EU) carbon tax has fallen by the wayside after the British Government dug in its heels and rebuffed an otherwise unanimous European Union Council of Ministers. Despite that failure, Danish Environment Minister Sven Auken, whose Government has led the fight for a EU carbon tax, says the battle over the tax is not finished. “It has to happen”, says Auken.

“It is just a matter of time.”Across the Atlantic Ocean, the subject of an energy tax has proved just as difficult. Despite a proposal by US President Bill Clinton for a so-called BTU tax, which the Administration decided on in order to distribute the burden of energy reduction on all sources, as opposed to only fossil fuel, was rejected by the US Congress. Politicians and lobbyists from American oil-producing states such as Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas played a major role in the bill’s defeat.

In Rio and afterwards more than 165 nations signed the Convention for Biological Diversity.

The treaty went into force on 29 December 1993 after the required 30 ratifications were received by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.Division among the partiesAs with the Climate Change Convention, an October meeting of the Biodiversity INC in preparation for the first meeting of the parties to be held in December outlined numerous issues that have divided the parties. A few of these revolve around a possible protocol on biotechnology to regulate genetically modified organisms.

Again, technology transfer, intellectual property rights and funding are nettlesome questions that are as much unanswered as they were several years ago.

An issue interrelated to both climate change and biological diversity concerns forestry. The squabbling between tropical timber-producing and temperate timber-producing nations prevented a Rio convention on forestry and hampered negotiations over the Forestry Principles and has continued. That became obvious during last year’s negotiations at the International Tropical Timber Organization. In that accord a compromise was reached by which developed nations (that is, temperate timber-producing nations) agreed to commit to sustainable forestry practices by the year 2000. The deal was struck after tropical timber producing nations argued in vain that the agreement should cover all forests, North and South.

“It really comes down to developed nations living up to the same standards they demand of the South”, said Bai-Mass Max Taal, a forestry expert with UNEP’s Terrestrial Ecosystems Branch. “Clearcutting and protection of virgin forests is just as important as saving the rainforest. There still is a lack of political will on these issues as well as finance shortages.”

At the third UNCED Prepcom held in Geneva an evening session on desertification was scheduled. Few showed up other than a number of African delegates. Most were at a reception being held in the foyer of the Palais des Nations. Feeling snubbed, the African nations banded together and eventually put forth demands for a Desertification Convention. The final negotiating stage for the Convention will take place in Paris in June.

Whatever comes of the final treaty and certainly new money is not likely it has become obvious that the scope and seriousness of the problem of desertification is still not understood. Western media has been rife with reports about the “myth of desertification”.

Unlike ozone depletion or climate change, which are concepts now rooted in public perception, most assume desertification is an African problem involving nations on the fringe of the Sahara. “This is despite the fact that it is a worldwide land degradation problem with more than 900 million people at risk”, says Franklin Cardy, who heads UNEP’s Desertification Unit.

A stunning success

Most international experts, who have followed the UNCED process and the post-Rio progress, agree there is one stunning success that has emerged from Rio. This is NGO participation in the process.”I can remember back at the first Prepcom when there was tremendous argument about NGO participation”, says Nay Htun. “Now it is taken for granted and most Governments realize how much NGOs can contribute to the issues.”

Despite getting their foot in the UNCED and now the CSD door, many NGOs admit they have had a difficult time making a post-Rio transition.”

Now that the international community is calling for practical case studies of substance on such issues as sustainable agriculture, management of toxic wastes, changing consumption patterns, and human habitats, the same NGOs who worked with the UNCED process are not necessarily the ones to deliver the goods”, said Mike McCoy, with the US Citizens Network.

“They know how to deliver the goods but the ones who know the substance of how to actually achieve sustainability are grassroots groups, the social movement activists and alternative researchers and technical folk at the local and national level.”

Encouragement from grassroots groupsStrong could not agree more: “If there is one encouraging sign since Rio, it is the way grassroots groups at the local level around the world have taken the Rio spirit and adopted their own Agenda 21 plans. … I just hope that enthusiasm and concern eventually work their way up the system and push Governments into the action that is so desperately needed.”

Much of the task of monitoring and cajoling Governments into action falls into the court of the CSD. While most academics, NGOs and others refrain from grading the work of the CSD to date, most agree that the 1994 session will go a long way in determining just how effective it will be.”

Will Governments, via the CSD, be able to take off their national hats and work for the common good of the planet?” asks Curtis. “That is what it really all comes down to.”

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Joe Kirwin is currently Acting Periodicals Editor in UNEP’s Information and Public Affairs Branch. The feature originally appeared in Vol.6, No.2, 1994 of “Our Planet”. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of UNEP. UNEP Feature 1994/4

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