The Earth Summit, 20 Years On

Cécile S | June 17, 2012.


The Rio Earth Summit – an Initial Stepping Stone

In 1992, Rio de Janeiro kickstarted international action on sustainable development with the Earth Summit. Building on Brundtland’s definition of sustainable development, something that meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations, it also concluded with grand promises. A better future was eluded to through principles and declarations centred around three main pillars: economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development covered 27 principles ranging from healthy livelihoods to state sovereignty over natural resources. This document also influenced how governments have since approached the issue of climate change, through the common but differentiated responsibilities principle.

The precedent for mandated civil society participation at the international level was also set by Agenda 21 which identified nine key stakeholders. The inclusion of non-state actors is crucial in creating a sustainable and inclusive process.

1992 also laid out the groundwork for conventions on climate change, biodiversity, desertification and forests.

Johannesburg 2002 – the Implementation Summit

Realising the difficulties of implementing the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, countries met again ten years later in Johannesburg to fill the gaps between the promised principles and reality. This resulted in an updated document and a Plan of Implementation for Type II Partnerships.  These allowed for 300 immediate relationships between the private sector and governments raising $200 million in additional resources.

Similar to the Millennium Development Goals established two years prior, Johannesburg also announced timelines around five key areas: agriculture, biodiversity, energy, health and water.

Rio+20 – There is Still Hope

Targets set in Rio and Johannesburg are still far from being achieved with the required changes proving difficult. Yet, there is still reason for hope with Rio+20 looming. The upcoming week offers the world an opportunity to redefine the sustainable development agenda not just for today but also tomorrow. The focus needs to shift from short term thinking to setting a vision for the future that satisfies the needs of all.


By Cécile Schneider, photo by Lachie McKenzie.


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