From 3-14 June 1992, Rio de Janeiro hosted the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The focus of this conference was the state of the global environment and the relationship between economics, science and the environment in a political context. The conference concluded with the Earth Summit, at which leaders of 105 nations gathered to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable development.
At UNCED, more than 130 nations signed a Convention on Climate Change and a Convention on Biodiversity. The delegates also reached agreement on Agenda 21, an action plan for developing the planet sustainably through the twenty-first century, and on a broad statement of principles for protecting forests. All nations present accepted without change the Rio Declaration, a non-binding statement of broad principles for environmental policy. New international networks, both formal and informal, were set up to carry out and oversee implementation of the agreements.
Breaking significantly with the previous thinking, it was recognised that economic development needed to take place together with social progress and protection of the environment, while also respecting every country’s right to develop. The Earth Summit addressed issues ranging from patterns of production, alternative energy sources, reliance on public transportation systems, to the growing scarcity of water.
The conference resulted in several important documents and agreements, a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection. It also produced the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Statement of Forest Principles, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, an agreement on the Climate Change Convention which in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol. Moreover, the idea of sustainable development revolutionized the thinking of millions, and contributed to world leaders agreeing to the Millennium Declaration in 2000, paving the way to the Millennium Development Goals
It is concluded that economic and production models which presently exploit and deplete nature, and are hazardous to the environment and human health, together with unsustainable consumption levels of the populations of industrialized countries and the minority of the developing world are at the root of environmental problems. Despite its environmental focus, the biggest arguments at the Earth Summit concerned finance, consumption rates and population growth. The developed nations were calling for environmental sustainability, but the less industrialized developing nations were demanding a chance to allow their economies to catch up with the developed world.
- The Earth Summit produced a number of outcomes including:
- The Convention on Biological Diversity;
- The Framework Convention on Climate Change;
- Principles of Forest Management;
- The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development; and
- Agenda 21.
Together these outcomes covered every aspect of sustainable development. These agreements and guidelines are still adhered to today and are influencing many political and business decisions.