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Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development provide the fundamental framework for policy discussion and action on matters related to industry and sustainable development. Although the role of business and industry, as a major group, is specifically addressed in chapter 30, issues related to industry and economic development, consumption and production patterns, social development and environmental protection cut across the entirety of Agenda 21, including its section 4, Means of implementation. 

Chapter II of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation also calls for the strengthening of industrial development in order to address poverty eradication and sustainable natural resource management.

In order to achieve the objectives of sustainable development, Governments need to integrate economic, social and environmental concerns in their policy-making and to promote economic growth and international competitiveness of industry through macroeconomic policies. In order to stimulate domestic private enterprise, boost economy-wide competitiveness and attract foreign direct investment, policy reforms should aim at creating an enabling policy environment, through improvements in infrastructure and education, encouragement of research and development, facilitation of exports and liberalization of domestic markets. In this regard, the development of small and medium-sized enterprises should receive special attention. 

Industry plays a critical role in technological innovations and research and development activities, which are crucial for the economic and social development of any country, as well as in the development, diffusion and transfer of  environmentally sound technologies and management techniques, which constitute a key element of sustainable development. 

There is a mutually reinforcing relationship between social and industrial development, and industrialization has the potential to promote, directly and indirectly, a variety of social objectives such as employment creation, poverty eradication, gender equality, labour standards, and greater access to education and health care. In this regard, the overriding policy challenge is to promote the positive impacts while limiting or eliminating the negative impacts of industrial activities on social development. 

As the world has become more industrialized, there have been increasing environmental pressures such as harmful emissions and waste, which have had global, regional or local impacts. These include, at the local level, urban air pollution, contamination of soils and rivers and land degradation; regionally, acid rain and water and coastal zone contamination; and globally, climate change, ozone layer depletion, loss of biodiversity, increased movement of hazardous waste and increased land-based marine pollution.

The overriding task facing Governments is to maximize the positive influence of industrial activities on economic and social development, while minimizing the negative impact of production and consumption on the environment. To this end, Governments should review their regulatory policies and systems of economic incentives and disincentives and undertake other actions such as capacity-building, environmental data collection and enforcement that support the environmental protection efforts of industry and civil society. Governments should encourage the wider dispersion and implementation of industry’s voluntary initiatives and agreements and sharing of best practices.