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July 21, 2003

Sustainable Development at the United Nations

Humane Society International

The United Nations (UN) Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), or Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992. This major international conference brought together for the first time thousands of government representatives, inter-governmental organizations (the United Nations Development Program, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and others) and civil society "Major Groups" including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), farmers, scientists, local authorities, trade unions, business and industry, youth, indigenous peoples, women's organizations, and members of the media from 179 countries. Their mission was to examine the economic, social, and environmental state of the planet and to develop an integrated plan of action to address critical issues.

The attendees looked carefully at the relationship between environmental concerns and development policies. Overarching issues included overcoming poverty, use of natural resources, human health and settlements, consumption and production, and the transfer of technology to developing countries. Governments negotiated a "blueprint for the twenty-first century"—Agenda 21. Chapters addressed environmental aspects (forests, oceans, sustainable agriculture and rural development, biological diversity, biotechnology, and protection of the atmosphere) and development concerns (poverty alleviation, finance) as well as means for implementation. Agenda 21 included 27 principles for guiding international actions "on the basis of environmental and economic responsibility."

Additional chapters on the role of each of the nine Major Groups in society as partners in sustainable development were also approved. Other important results of the Earth Summit include the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Statement of Principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests.

The UN Commission on Sustainable Development

To monitor and review progress on implementation of Agenda 21, governments created the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), which has annual two week meetings in New York. The commission has a rotating roster of 53 governments and additional observers, including civil society representatives whose numbers and involvement in international policy monitoring and review have increased dramatically since the Rio conference. The HSUS and Humane Society International have followed this process closely in areas related to humane sustainable development focusing on oceans and fisheries, biodiversity and endangered species, and sustainable agriculture and food security. Ten-Year Review

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), also known as the Johannesburg Summit or Rio + 10, was convened in September 2002 to conduct a major assessment of progress (or the lack thereof) since the first meeting in 1992 and a five year review in 1997 (Rio + 5), and to provide "mid-course corrections" taking into account new and emerging threats to global sustainability.

WSSD marked the culmination of a year's worth of preparatory conferences and negotiations, leading to the development of a document to be used as the template for furthering sustainable development—economic, social and environmental—in the years ahead. The HSUS and Humane Society International were successful in removing language in the resulting Johannesburg Plan of Implementation that would have fostered the resumption of commercial whaling, permitted the utilization of threatened and endangered species, and undermined other humane objectives. Some controversial elements remained in the final text due to the scope of topics covered and the vast array of interest groups who participated in the meetings.

A particular goal of the WSSD was to focus on action rather than just good intentions. In response to the call for concrete, measurable results hundreds of specific partnership initiatives—including one on sustainable agriculture—were developed by a variety of governments, inter-governmental organizations, and civil society groups. Progress on implementing these initiatives will be featured as part of the newly adopted two-year cycle of review and negotiation to be conducted by the CSD. A new emphasis on national and regional action, redirecting attention to the five UN regions, will be a central focus for the next ten-year plan.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development has played an important role as a focal point for a mid-course review and as the means for re-energizing groups and individuals to continue their efforts to save the planet, its people, and all living creatures.