Earth Summit (1992)

views updated

Earth Summit (1992)


In June 1992 representatives from 172 nations convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), commonly called the Earth Summit. The Earth Summit was an unprecedented meeting of representatives, including 108 heads of state, 2,400 representatives from various non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and nearly 10,000 journalists. An additional 17,000 NGO representatives attended a parallel NGO forum that provided recommendations to the Earth Summit.

The massive interest and participation of nations and NGOs in the Earth Summit indicated a shift in global attitudes toward the environment. Scientific evidence gathered in the second half of the twentieth century indicated that human activity was taking a toll on the environment. The scientific evidence also indicated that pollution and depletion of natural resources that occurred in one country could have a profound effect on the environment of other nations or the entire planet. At the Earth Summit, world leaders devised plans and policies to protect the environment by involving national and local governments and NGOs.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

The Earth Summit was not the first international conference to address environmental issues. In 1972 the United Nations convened the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden. This conference, often called the Stockholm Conference, was the first international conference to address environmental problems directly.

Representatives from 113 nations and over 400 NGOs attended the Stockholm Conference. The conference produced the Declaration of the Conference on the Human Environment, which stated that every person deserved a clean, healthy environment. The conference also produced an Action Plan, which contained 109 specific recommendations for improving the environment, including limiting the use of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

In 1983 the United Nations convened the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), also known as the Brundtland Commission. The commission addressed the ongoing deterioration of the environment and depletion of natural resources and the effect that these conditions had on human social and economic activities. The most notable result of the Brundtland Commission was the publication of its report, Our Common Future, in 1987.

Our Common Future stressed the need for sustainable development that would promote economic growth while protecting the environment for future generations. The report laid the international political groundwork for the Earth Summit by establishing the environment and sustainable development among the most pressing international issues.

Impacts and Issues

Earth Summit 1992 produced several long-range reports and implementation plans that continue to serve as blueprints for international action on environmental issues, including the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Earth Summit 2002) and the Kyoto Protocol. Earth Summit 1992 produced the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Statement of Forest Principles, and Agenda 21. The Earth Summit also led to the establishment of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development is a set of principles that defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in the areas of environmental protection and sustainable development. The Rio Declaration states that nations have the right to exploit natural resources within their borders if their actions do not affect the environment in other nations. It also calls on all national and local governments to develop and implement plans that preserve the environment and natural resources for future generations.

The Statement of Forest Principles called for sustainable management of forests worldwide. It is a nonbinding document produced through compromise after developed nations refused to pay for the setting aside of national forests by developing nations.

Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan for intergovernmental agencies, national governments, local governments, and NGOs to work together to protect the environment through sustainable development. It contains four categories: Social and Economic Dimensions, Conservation and Management of Resources for Development, Strengthening the Role of Major Groups, and Means of Implementation. The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development is primarily responsible for the implementation of Agenda 21.

Agenda 21 recognized that developing nations and developed nations both contribute to environmental degradation. Poorer nations often have less restrictive environmental regulations and focus on economic development. Despite stronger environmental regulations, developed nations have patterns of production and consumption that pollute the environment.

Agenda 21, therefore, addressed environmental issues through detailed social and economic proposals. Agenda 21 proposed addressing environmental issues through combating poverty, conserving and managing natural resources, preventing deforestation, promoting sustainable agriculture, addressing production and consumption patterns, and protecting the atmospheres and oceans.

The Rio Earth Summit also produced two international environmental treaties, Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Convention on Biological Diversity was the first international treaty to address preservation of biological diversity. Over 180 countries have signed the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Convention on Biological Diversity has three primary goals: conservation of biodiversity; sustainable use of the components of biodiversity; and a fair and equitable sharing of the benefits that arise from using biological resources. In order to achieve these goals, the


BIODIVERSITY: Literally, “life diversity”: the wide range of plants and animals that exist within any given geographical region.

CHLOROFLUOROCARBONS: Chemical compounds containing chlorine, fluorine, carbon, and oxygen. They are widely used in refrigeration and air-conditioning systems and are destructive of the ozone layer in Earth’s stratosphere.

GREENHOUSE GAS: A gas whose accumulation in the atmosphere increases heat retention.

NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATION (NGO): A voluntary organization that is not part of any government; often organized to address a specific issue or perform a humanitarian function.

Convention on Biological Diversity balances traditional conservation efforts with the economic reality of sustainable use of natural resources.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an international treaty proposed at the Rio Earth Summit. The UNFCCC seeks to combat global climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Over 190 nations have ratified the UNFCCC.

The stated purpose of the UNFCCC is to allow governments to perform the following acts: gather and share information on greenhouse-gas emissions, national policies, and effective practices; launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse-gas emissions; and cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of global climate change. The UNFCCC includes a provision whereby developed countries provide financial and technological support for developing nations to address global climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol is the most well-known and far-reaching action taken under the UNFCCC. The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty that seeks to stabilize greenhouse-gas emissions by committing countries to specific greenhouse-gas emissions goals. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the Third Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC in 1997, and the treaty went into effect in February 2005.

The Kyoto Protocol requires developed countries to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions to 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. The Kyoto Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations for two reasons. First, these nations have the economic resources to pay for a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions through technological advancements. Second, developed nations have historically produced more greenhouse-gas emissions per

capita. As of mid-2008, the United States had not signed the Kyoto Protocol.

The effects of the Rio Earth Summit are still shaping international efforts to improve the environment through ongoing actions under Agenda 21, the Convention on Biodiversity, and the UNFCCC. The Kyoto Protocol will require developed nations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through 2012, at which point the UNFCCC hopes to have ratified a new framework for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

See Also Earth Summit (2002); Greenhouse Gases; Kyoto Protocol; Sustainable Development


Web Sites

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. “How the Convention on Biological Diversity Promotes Nature and Human Well-Being.” (accessed April 21, 2008).

Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Essential Background: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.” (accessed April 21, 2008).

Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Kyoto Protocol.” (accessed April 21, 2008).

United Nations. “Documents: Agenda 21.” December 15, 2004. (accessed April 21, 2008).

United Nations. “U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (1992).” May 23, 1997. (accessed April 21, 2008).

United Nations Environment Programme. “Stockholm 1972: Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.” (accessed April 21, 2008).

Joseph P. Hyder

About this article

Earth Summit (1992)

Updated About content Print Article