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Since 1990, the international community has convened 12 major conferences which have
committed Governments to address urgently some of the most pressing problems facing
the world today. Taken together, these high profile meetings have achieved a global
consensus on the priorities for a new development agenda for the 1990s and beyond.
The subsequent chapters of this briefing paper, each dedicated to one of the major
conferences, attempt to answer important questions. What problems did these conferences
address? What did they accomplish? What actions did they propose? What is the follow-up?
Where do we go from here? What is the UN role in the new development agenda proposed
by these meetings?
This continuum of conferences represents a remarkable achievement for the United
Nations system. Through the conference process the entire international community
has come together to agree on shared values, on shared goals and on strategies to
achieve them. This effort shows one of the United Nations system’s greatest strengths:
the ability to move from consciousness-raising to agenda-setting to agreement on
action by Member States to follow-up on conference commitments and to effective assistance
for the countries that need help in realizing their commitments.
Taken individually, each conference marked the culmination of many months of consultations
among Member States, UN experts and non-governmental representatives, who reviewed
vast amounts of information and shared a broad spectrum of experiences in child welfare,
environmental protection, human rights, the advancement of women, productive employment,
reproductive health and urban development, and the links of these to peace, development
and human security. Each conference forged agreements on specific issues in a new
spirit of global cooperation and purpose. Every meeting has demonstrated the universality
of concern regarding the issues in question.
All were convened with the strong support of the UN General Assembly, currently the
voice of 185 Member States, and the recognition that the end of the cold war presented
the opportunity — indeed, the necessity — to revitalize international cooperation
on development issues. All addressed problems of a global magnitude which Member
States recognized had grown beyond their individual capacities to solve and which
needed a concerted international effort. All of them reflect the work of Member States
and a growing number of other actors in the field of international development, particularly
non-governmental organizations (NGOs). All of them actively sought out media attention,
capturing the imaginations of millions of people around the world and greatly enhancing
awareness and understanding of the issues in the public at large.
The Challenges Ahead
The world conferences reaffirmed many long-standing principles and helped articulate
new ones that reflect the experience — both the successes and failures — of the past
50 years of work in the principal areas of the UN mandate. Both the conferences and
the parallel work on “An Agenda for Development”, the evolving proposal for a new
approach to development, currently being revised by the General Assembly, have focused
attention on problems of development and reflect the new thinking that has emerged
over the past decade in the face of ever-changing circumstances. The Agenda’s call
for a “common framework” for the various initiatives for development and the emphasis
placed on integrated follow-up have been echoed in the conferences. The conferences
also linked the themes and action plans to each other in a deliberate way. Although
there is no universal prescription for successful development, the conferences reflect
the growing convergence of views that democracy, development and respect for all
human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, are interdependent
and mutually reinforcing. There is also concern that the “top-down” approach to development
be countered by genuine input from the community level to the policy-making process.
These are concepts that mark major shifts in thinking, not simply among some development
specialists or academics, but by government leaders and policy makers who are setting
policy at the highest levels. These can be expected to have a far-reaching impact
at all levels of society.
There is increasing acceptance of a common concept of development, which is centred
on human beings, their needs, rights and aspirations, fostered by sustainable global
economic growth and supported by a revitalized and equitable system of multilateral
cooperation. These major international conferences have played a key role in building
this consensus and in identifying the actions needed to fulfill common goals.
New approaches to development
A variety of guidelines and principles reflecting the new
thinking about development are highlighted in the action plans of the world conferences.
The action plans call for their integration into policy and programme formulation
at both the national and international levels. These constitute the bases for evaluation
of the Conference accomplishments over time.
should be centred on human beings. Because an individual’s well-being is multifaceted,
a multidimensional approach to development is essential. Therefore, any formulation
of strategies, policies, and national, regional and international actions has to
be based on an integrated and comprehensive approach.
of development include the eradication of poverty, the fulfilment of the basic needs
of all people and the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, the
right to development among them. Development requires that governments apply active
social and environmental policies, and the promotion and protection of all human
rights and fundamental freedoms on the basis of democratic and widely participatory
institutions. Goals of economic growth and social progress in larger freedom must
therefore be pursued simultaneously and in an integrated manner.
in health, education and training are critical to the development of human resources.
Social development is best pursued if governments actively promote empowerment and
participation in a democratic and pluralistic system respectful of all human rights.
Processes to promote increased and equal economic opportunities, to avoid exclusion
and overcome socially divisive disparities while respecting diversity are also a
necessary part of an enabling environment for social development.
of the status of women, including their empowerment, is central to all efforts to
achieve sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental dimensions.
n Diversion of resources away from social priorities should be avoided and, where
it has occurred, be corrected. The formulation of structural adjustment policies
and programmes should take these considerations into account.
An open and
equitable framework for trade, investment and technology transfer, as well as enhanced
cooperation in the management of a globalized world economy and in the formulation
and implementation of macroeconomic policies, are critical for the promotion of sustained
economic growth. While the private sector is the primary motor for economic development,
the importance of an active role for governments in the formulation of social and
environmental policies should not be underestimated.
of the rate of economic growth is essential for expanding the resource base for development
and hence for economic, technical and social transformation. Economic growth generates
the required financial, physical, human and technological resources and creates a
basis for sustained global economic growth and sustainable development as well as
for international economic cooperation. It is also essential to the eradication of
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© Copyright United Nations 23 May 1997 | Department
of Public Information | Revised 23 May 1997