Earth Summit (2002)
Earth Summit (2002)
The United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, also called Earth Summit 2002, was an international convention on the environment and sustainable development held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 26 to September 6, 2002. Earth Summit 2002 produced the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, an international agreement on the environment and sustainable development. The Johannesburg Declaration reiterates most of the proposals from the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21, international agreements from Earth Summit 1992. The Johannesburg Declaration contains targets and timetables for achieving the goals of Agenda 21. Numerous environmental organizations have criticized Earth Summit 2002 for not producing any new, substantive international agreements.
Historical Background and Scientific Foundations
The international environmental policies established by Earth Summit 2002 were a direct result of ideas produced by previous international environmental conferences. The most notable of these previous conferences are the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, and United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE), held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972, was the first major international conference on the environment. The UNCHE, also called the Stockholm Conference, produced the Declaration of the Conference on the Human Environment and the Action Plan for the Human Environment. The Declaration of the Conference noted that population growth, developing economies, and technological and industrial advancements harmed the environment. The Declaration of the Conference also couched environmentalism in human rights terms, asserting that every human has the right to a clean and healthy environment.
The declaration stated that humans have the responsibility to manage wildlife and their ecosystems. To further these goals, the declaration sought an end to the discharge of pollution into the environment. It also requested that industrialized nations provide financial and technological support to developing nations. Such support would enable developing nations to grow their economies in an environmentally responsible manner.
The action plan of the Stockholm Conference contained 109 specific recommendations for achieving the goals set forth in the declaration. The action plan, which also called for establishing international standards for pollutants, recommended continued scientific research into the effect of pollutants on the environment. A network of pollution monitoring agencies would monitor pollution levels across the world. The United Nations founded the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972 largely to implement initiatives in the action plan and to provide financial and technical support to developing nations on environmental issues.
In 1983 the United Nations General Assembly established the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), also called the Brundtland Commission. The Brundtland Commission addressed three major environmental issues. First, the commission examined critical environmental and sustainable developmental issues. The commission then devised proposals for addressing these issues. Second, the commission proposed new ways in which the international community could cooperate on environmental and sustainable development issues. Finally, it sought to
WORDS TO KNOW
BIODIVERSITY: Literally, “life diversity”: the wide range of plants and animals that exist within any given geographical region.
ECOSYSTEM: The community of individuals and the physical components of the environment in a certain area.
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.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: Development (i.e., increased or intensified economic activity; sometimes used as a synonym for industrialization) that meets the cultural and physical needs of the present generation of persons without damaging the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
raise environmental consciousness and obtain commitments from individuals, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address these environmental issues.
In 1987 the Brundtland Commission issued Our Common Future, a report of its findings and recommendations. Our Common Future asserted that sustainable development must be addressed by any international environmental initiative. Our Common Future defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Since Our Common Future, every UN conference on the environment has made sustainable development a core aspect of international environmental policy.
Our Common Future asserted that the international community could only resolve the interlocking crises of environmental preservation, economic development, and energy production through a comprehensive sustainable development plan. The Brundtland Commission stated that governments cannot manage these interlocking crises on a local or national scale. Instead, Our Common Future stated that the only viable solution to environmental issues is an international approach that simultaneously addresses all three crises. Our Common Future contained specific recommendations for promoting environmental preservation through sustainable development.
Representatives from 172 countries met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also called Earth Summit 1992. The gathering resulted in several seminal international environmental law conventions that continue to shape international action on environmental issues. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21 are the most notable reports produced by Earth Summit 1992.
The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development calls on nations to implement environmental and energy stewardship plans. The declaration further defines national rights and responsibilities in the areas of environmental protection and sustainable development. The Rio Declaration affirms the sovereign right of nations to exploit natural resources within their borders, but only if their actions do not harm the environment in other nations. It also requests that all levels of government devise and execute environmental preservation plans.
Agenda 21 is a comprehensive environmental and sustainable development plan that requires cooperation from intergovernmental agencies, national and local governments, and NGOs. It addresses four topics: 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 responsible for executing the principles of Agenda 21.
Impacts and Issues
In August and September 2002, representatives from 193 nations attended the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, the ten-year follow-up conference to Earth Summit 1992. The United States controversially did not participate in the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Many participants and NGOs consider this summit, also called Earth Summit 2002, less successful than Earth Summit 1992, because it did not produce any groundbreaking international environmental agreements.
The main agreement produced by Earth Summit 2002, the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, merely reiterates many of the goals contained in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. The Johannesburg Declaration also does not contain many specific proposals for preserving the environment or promoting sustainable development. Instead, the Johannesburg Declaration addresses the environment and sustainable development in more general terms. The Johannesburg Declaration also requests that nations implement measures to eliminate or minimize all threats to sustainable development, including drug use, terrorism, corruption, ethnic intolerance, and the effects of natural disasters.
Earth Summit 2002 produced more than 300 partnership initiatives on the environment and sustainable development. Partnership initiatives are not multi-lateral international treaties; they are agreements between two or more governments, non-governmental organizations,
or private sector participants. These Earth Summit 2002 partnership initiatives pledged more than $200 million to various environmental and sustainable development projects in the areas of water and sanitation, energy, health, agriculture, biodiversity protection, and ecosystem management.
See Also Sustainable Development; United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (1972); United Nations Policy and Activism; United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) Our Common Future Report (1987)
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Joseph P. Hyder