Only One Planet

It's ten years since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and there is a mixture of expectations for the Johannesburg event.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development commences in Johannesburg on 26th August 2002. Registered delegates include 5,000 government officials, 15,000 NGOs and 2,000 media correspondents.

Stockholm, 1972 - the first international Conference on the Human Environment, attended by representatives of 114 countries, which focused international attention on environmental issues, especially those relating to environmental degradation and "transboundary pollution".

In 1987 the UN World Commission on Environment and Development published the report 'Our Common Future', often referred to as the 'Brundland Report'. The report defined sustainable development as 'development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.'

1992 - The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the "Earth Summit", was held at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 3-14 June, twenty years after the first Stockholm conference. 63 Presidents and 46 Prime Ministers attended. The Earth Summit made history by bringing global attention to the understanding that the planet's environmental problems were intimately linked to economic conditions and problems of social justice. At the heart of the agenda was nothing less than our Planet's future.

Out of Rio came Agenda 21, a very broad, 40-chapter statement of goals and potential programs related to sustainable development in terms of social, economic and environmental needs.A costing of Agenda 21 indicated a need for some $150 bn per year of new aid money (three times more than the existing aid levels). This money was not forthcoming.

In December 1992 The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was created to ensure effective follow-up of UNCED, to monitor and report on implementation of the agreements at the local, national, regional and international levels.

The Rio Earth Summit was followed in the same year by the Convention on Climate Change, at which a non-binding agreement was formulated to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The resultant treaty called for nations to reduce their CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2000, but most concerned parties were disappointed that it fell far short of expectations, largely due to a lack of support by the United States (so no change there then!).

This was backed up in 1997 by the Kyoto Protocol, which sought to actually reduce the 1990 CO2 emission levels of industrial countries by 6% to 8% by 2008 - 2012. However, much of the detail about how it would be implemented was consigned to future talks, which finally broke down at the Hague in November 2000, when the USA and Europe failed to agree. A major loophole was pushed into the protocol, which allowed nations to trade credits for extra reductions with countries that wished to increase their own emissions.

Notable nations who have refused to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol are the United States (no prizes for guessing that the number one World Polluter would take that stand point), Australia and Canada. Together, these countries make up the Top Three CO2 polluters in the World today. More >

June 1997 -  at a Special Session of the General Assembly, known as Earth Summit + 5,  a comprehensive document prepared by the CSD, known as the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21, was adopted.

Unfortunately, Big Business has had a major influence on the shape of political resolve and commitment to the concepts of Sustainable Development and a lot of the political rhetoric pays only lip-service to the good intentions. We shall have to see what the 2002 Summit produces - and it may be a long time before any impacts are actually felt around our World.

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This page last updated: 24 August 2002