Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro (1992)

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Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro (1992)

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, known as the Earth Summit, was the second major international conference on the environment sponsored by the United Nations. Its legacy is defined by the action plan known as Agenda 21, by bringing the term sustainable development into common usage, and by encouraging the environmental dialogue to include stakeholders as well as shareholders.

In 2002 the United Nations hosted a follow-up conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, called the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Critics of the 1992 summit complained it focused too much on specific environmental issues. Critics of the 2002 conference argued it overemphasized poverty issues. The UN definition of sustainability comprises three pillars: a prosperous economy, protection of the Earth, and social development. But the original concept of sustainable development itself, some scholars argue, has become distorted to fit the needs of special interest groups.

The Earth Summit's impact is regarded as uneven. On the positive side, Agenda 21 continues to be the blueprint for environmental action in the twenty-first century. Major industry sectors have adopted environmental management systems and developed global sustainability reports that measure reductions in their global environmental footprints. Multinational corporations and nongovernmental organizations engage in dialogues needed to advance Agenda 21. New institutions have been established, including the UN's Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and, in the host country of Brazil, a ministry of environment.

On the negative side, economic growth is outpacing the modest post-1992 environmental gains. The developed North continues to consume the planet's resources at high levels while a global shift in manufacturing production toward poorer countries is fueling a correspondingly higher demand for those same resources. Poverty is on the rise. Environmentally, planetary conditions have worsened in terms of biodiversity, air pollution, land degradation, chemical emissions and wastes, and water quality. Regulatory regimes remain inadequate to achieve Agenda 21's desired outcomes. Realizing major environmental change will require more sophisticated integration of effort across multiple sectors of diverse societies and cultures.

In Brazil itself, the Earth Summit institutionalized environmental awareness, especially in the urban periphery, which in turn has increased participation in environmentalism by civil society.

See alsoEnvironmental Movementsxml .


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                                       Laura Jarnagin

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Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro (1992)

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