United Nations Conference on Environment and Development

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A major international conference that was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992 and is popularly known as the Earth Summit. The conference was the culmination of more than a decade of preparatory work, and it established the tone, pace, and direction of the international environmental agenda for the foreseeable future. The seeds for the Earth Summit were sown in Stockholm in 1972, where the first international United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held. A series of preparatory meetings were held between 1990 and 1992 in various countries, at which governments, non‐governmental organizations (NGOs), and expert scientists discussed and largely reached agreement on a series of basic documents which would be formally debated at Rio. Most (178) countries were represented and more than 100 heads of state attended the Rio summit. Five important agreements were reached—the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Agenda 21, a United Nations Framework Convention on Biological Diversity, a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and a Statement of Forest Principles. Despite the huge amount of media coverage it attracted, and the promising tone of the conventions and other items which were agreed, the Rio Earth Summit has had a mixed reaction. Environmentalists from developed countries hailed the conference as the ‘last chance to save the planet’, whilst delegates from developing countries saw it as an opportunity to redress long‐standing economic grievances. Supporters argue that although the conference attracted a great deal of bad press coverage, and was widely criticized by environmental pressure groups, it did mark a welcome and substantial change in international political attitudes towards the environment. They also applaud the recognition formally given at Rio of the need to tackle over‐consumption in industrialized states, and poverty and resource scarcity in the developing world. Agenda 21 recognized that growth, the alleviation of poverty, population policy, and environmental protection were mutually reinforcing and supporting. Critics argue that whilst Unced delivered an impressive number of international agreements on a variety of topics, it hardly began to address the fundamental driving forces of global environmental change—such as trade, population growth, and institutional change. They also point out that the legal agreements signed at Rio are relatively weak and lack binding commitments and timetables. On balance, even though some aims were not achieved at Rio, it was nonetheless an important step on the long‐term path towards environmentally sustainable development.

Subjects: Environmental Science.

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