Group photo of world leaders meeting at the 'Earth Summit'.
Group photo of world leaders meeting at the 'Earth Summit' in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 13 June 1992. UN Photo/Michos Tzovaras

United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3-14 June 1992

Background

A new blueprint for international environmental action

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the 'Earth Summit', was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 3-14 June 1992. This global conference, held on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the first Human Environment Conference in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972, brought together political leaders, diplomats, scientists, representatives of the media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from 179 countries for a massive effort to focus on the impact of human socio-economic activities on the environment. A 'Global Forum' of NGOs was also held in Rio de Janeiro at the same time, bringing together an unprecedented number of NGO representatives, who presented their own vision of the world's future in relation to the environment and socio-economic development.

The Rio de Janeiro conference highlighted how different social, economic and environmental factors are interdependent and evolve together, and how success in one sector requires action in other sectors to be sustained over time. The primary objective of the Rio 'Earth Summit' was to produce a broad agenda and a new blueprint for international action on environmental and development issues that would help guide international cooperation and development policy in the twenty-first century.

The 'Earth Summit' concluded that the concept of sustainable development was an attainable goal for all the people of the world, regardless of whether they were at the local, national, regional or international level. It also recognized that integrating and balancing economic, social and environmental concerns in meeting our needs is vital for sustaining human life on the planet and that such an integrated approach is possible. The conference also recognized that integrating and balancing economic, social and environmental dimensions required new perceptions of the way we produce and consume, the way we live and work, and the way we make decisions. This concept was revolutionary for its time, and it sparked a lively debate within governments and between governments and their citizens on how to ensure sustainability for development.

One of the major results of the UNCED Conference was Agenda 21, a daring program of action calling for new strategies to invest in the future to achieve overall sustainable development in the 21st century. Its recommendations ranged from new methods of education, to new ways of preserving natural resources and new ways of participating in a sustainable economy.

The 'Earth Summit' had many great achievements: the Rio Declaration and its 27 universal principles, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity; and the Declaration on the principles of forest management . The 'Earth Summit' also led to the creation of the Commission on Sustainable Development, the holding of first world conference on the sustainable development of small island developing States in 1994, and negotiations for the establishment of the agreement on straddling stocks and highly migratory fish stocks.