Environmental Accords and Commitments
Global conferences on environmental topics bring together governments - and often their top leaders - to hammer out agreements that entail a commitment to sustainable development. This is the aim of the Johannesburg Summit, but it was also a key issue at previous meetings.
The United Nations-sponsored World Summit on Sustainable Development, in the South African city, has its precedents in the UN Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, and the UN Conference on Environment and Development, which took place a decade ago in Rio de Janeiro.
In 1972, the governments participating in the Stockholm meet signed an important Declaration of Principles. This served to put the issue on the world agenda and established humanity's responsibility in preserving the environment. Thirty years ago, that was an innovative proposal.
At the end of that first environmental summit, a plan of action was also adopted. It outlined, among other things, goals for evaluating environmental impact and for providing education about the importance of conservation.
Two decades later came the international conference in Rio, also known as the Earth Summit, which introduced the notion of sustainable development as a central element in the strategy to save the planet.
In Rio de Janeiro, it became evident that it would be difficult to negotiate agreements related to the environment because countries had different priorities and strategies. Even so, at the end of that summit, in which more than 100 heads of state and delegations from 170 nations took part, five important documents were signed.
These five conventions are considered a landmark achievement, even though there are valid doubts about the political will of some governments to achieve the established goals.
The Earth Summit produced the Rio Declaration, in which the first principle states: "Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature."
The 1992 summit also produced the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Declaration of Principles on Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of Forests, and the Framework Convention on Climate Change, whose texts required intense negotiations.
But perhaps the most important document was the Agenda 21, an action plan for achieving sustainable development in the 21st century. The text clearly sets forth the main challenges entailed in reaching that goal, and outlines actions to do so.
One of the objectives of the Johannesburg Summit is to assess compliance with the actions laid out in Agenda 21. However, over the last several months, evaluations have been published that show the international community is far behind keeping those goals.