Rio + 20 Conference in 2012 and UN Sustainable Development

 Rio + 20 Conference in 2012, UN Sustainable Development, and Agenda 21


What is Rio + 20?

From the UN website:

On 24th December 2009 the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution (A/RES/64/236) agreeing to hold the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in 2012 - also referred to as 'Rio+20' or 'Rio 20'. The Conference seeks three objectives: securing renewed political commitment to sustainable development, assessing the progress and implementation gaps in meeting already agreed commitments, and addressing new and emerging challenges. The Member States have agreed on the following two themes for the Conference: green economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and institutional framework for sustainable development.



A preparatory meeting for Rio + 20 was held at the UN in May 2010; the report is HERE.

HERE is the presentation given by Dr. Tariq Banuri at the UNCTAD Expert Group Meeting on the Green Economy, Trade and Sustainable Development, Geneva, 7-8 October 2010. The presentation describes different perspectives on the green economy  as a means to achieving sustainable development,  rather than as a goal in itself. These perspectives include green economy best practices and green economy enabling policies. An important analogy is drawn with the knowledge economy paradigm of the early 2000s and how it was mainstreamed in policy circles  and development practice. A similar approach can now be taken to the green economy paradigm.

HERE is the link to the Rio + 20 Newsletter (bi-weekly). The aim is to keep you abreast of the preparatory work for the Conference to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in May 2012. This Newsletter is prepared by the dedicated UNCSD Secretariat with input from UN offices, agencies, funds and programs, as well as from national delegations and major groups from around the world. 

HERE is a recent newsletter (March 2011):

Rio+20 March_ 2011

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History of Sustainable Development at the UN

Abridged from the UN website:

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm brought the industrialized and developing nations together to delineate the ‘rights’ of the human family to a healthy and productive environment.  

In 1980, the International Union for the Conservation of Natural Resources (IUCN) published the World Conservation Strategy (WCS) which provided a precursor to the concept of sustainable development.  

Ten years later, at the 48th plenary of the General Assembly in 1982, the WCS initiative culminated with the approval of the World Charter for Nature. The Charter stated that “mankind is a part of nature and life depends on the uninterrupted functioning of natural systems”. 

In 1983, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) was created and, by 1984, it was constituted as an independent body by the United Nations General Assembly. WCED was asked to formulate ‘A global agenda for change’. In 1987, in its report Our Common Future, the WCED advanced the understanding of global interdependence and the relationship between economics and the environment previously introduced by the WCS.  

In June 1992, the first UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was held in Rio de Janeiro and adopted an agenda for environment and development in the 21st Century. Agenda 21: A Programme of Action for Sustainable Development contains the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which recognizes each nation’s right to pursue social and economic progress and assigned to States the responsibility of adopting a model of sustainable development; and, the Statement of Forest Principles. Agreements were also reached on the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change.  

In 1993, UNCED instituted the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to follow-up on the implementation of Agenda 21. In June 1997, the General Assembly dedicated its 19th Special Session (UNGASS-19) to design a “Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21”. In 2002, ten years after the Rio Declaration, a follow-up conference, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) was convened in Johannesburg to renew the global commitment to sustainable development. The conference agreed on the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) and further tasked the CSD to follow-up on the implementation of sustainable development.

See HERE for more information about the Commission on Sustainable Development CSD and climate change.

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The very important 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, from the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, has 27 principles. Here is an excerpt: 

...With the goal of establishing a new and equitable global partnership through the creation of new levels of cooperation among States, key sectors of societies and people,

Working towards international agreements which respect the interests of all and protect the integrity of the global environmental and developmental system,

Recognizing the integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our home,

Proclaims that:

Principle 1 
Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.

Principle 2 
States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

Principle 3 
The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.

Principle 4 
In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.


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This presentation is by Ann Braudis, co-chair of the UN Committee on Sustainable Development (CoNGO, NY).

Rio + 20 Background

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Agenda 21


Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment.

Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests were adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, 3 to 14 June 1992.

HERE is the text of Agenda 21, which can be downloaded free.

The first part of Agenda 21 says:


1.1. Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can - in a global partnership for sustainable development.

The relevant section for climate change is here:

Section II
Conservation & Management of Resources for Development
Chapter 9

Protection of the Atmoshpere


9.1. Protection of the atmosphere is a broad and multidimensional endeavour involving various sectors of economic activity. The options and measures described in the present chapter are recommended for consideration and, as appropriate, implementation by Governments and other bodies in their efforts to protect the atmosphere.

9.2. It is recognized that many of the issues discussed in this chapter are also addressed in such international agreements as the 1985 Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer as amended, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and other international, including regional, instruments. In the case of activities covered by such agreements, it is understood that the recommendations contained in this chapter do not oblige any Government to take measures which exceed the provisions of these legal instruments. However, within the framework of this chapter, Governments are free to carry out additional measures which are consistent with those legal instruments.

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Dash, J. (2011). Rio + 20 Conference in 2012 and UN Sustainable Development. Retrieved from


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