UN Conference Focus



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Rio '92 UN Conference on Environment & Development

Vienna '93 World Conference on Human Rights

Cairo '94 International Conference on Population & Development

Copenhagen '95 The World Summit for Social Development

Beijing '95 The World Conference on Women

Habitat II Un Conference on Human Settlements

Rome '96 World Food Summit

Midrend '96 UN Conference on Trade & Development

New York '97  Earth Summit II


The UN Conference on Environment & Development (UNCED)

Rio ‘92

For all intensive purposes, the road began with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This meeting was unprecedented for a UN conference in terms of both the size and scope of concerns. Leaders of nations from around the globe (172 governments represented, 108 by heads of state) joined together with 2,400 NGO representatives in search of ways to help governments rework economic development strategy, to illuminate the destruction of natural resources, and reduce pollution of the planet. In other words, the conference centred around making the necessary decisions needed to ensure a healthy planet for future generations.

In 1972, at the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the relationship between economic development and the environment was recognised for the first time and, in turn, placed on the international agenda. As a result of this conference the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) was founded in order to act as a motivational tool for action to protect the environment. Despite this new programme, very little was done in the years to come to integrate environmental concerns into the areas of national economic planning and decision making. In 1983, environmental degradation was on its way to absurdity in developing nations and, in turn, the UN set up the World Commission on Environment and Development. Finally, in 1987 the UN General Assembly called for the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The primary goals of the Summit included: the establishment of concrete strategies that would ensure broad-based sustainable development; forming foundations for global partnerships between the developing and the industrialised worlds while focusing on mutual needs and common interests of both, thus, ensuring a healthy future for the planet.

The Earth Summit held its central concern as being the need for broad-based, environmentally sustainable development. The issues included, but were not limited to: the adoption of Agenda 21, a comprehensive programme of action to attain sustainable development on the global scale; patterns of production, particularly the production of toxic components; alternative sources of energy sought to replace the use of fossil fuels; and awareness of and concern over the growing scarcity of water.

After discussion of these and other issues 108 governments adopted three major agreements concerned with changing the traditional approach to development. These agreements included: the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (a series of principles defining the rights and responsibilities of states); the Statement of Forest Principles (a set of principles to underline the sustainable management of forests world-wide); and Agenda 21. In addition, two legally binding Conventions, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity, both seeking respectively to prevent global climate change and the eradication of the diversity of biological species were opened for signature at the Summit, providing a forum for the development of these issues.

As a result of the Summit and these agreements, three bodies were created within the UN to ensure full support for implementation of Agenda 21 and other programs world-wide. These bodies included: the UN Commission on Sustainable Development; the Inter-agency Committee on Sustainable Development; and the High-level Advisory Board on Sustainable Development. The Earth Summit has influenced all of the following major UN conferences which have dealt with the relationships between human rights, population, social development, women and human settlements, and the need for environmentally sustainable development. For example, the World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, underscored the right of people to a healthy environment and the right to development, controversial demands that had met with resistance from some Member States until Rio. Thus, beginning the Roadmap for 2002.

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World Conference on Human Rights

Vienna ‘93

The World Conference on Human Rights, which took place in Vienna, June ‘93, marked the first major world review of human rights and focus of the UN in this area since 1968. The conference brought together 7,000 participants including an unprecedented number of government delegates from 171 countries; representatives from UN treaty bodies, academia and national institutions; and representatives of more than 800 NGO’s. The principle theme of the conference was centred around the promotion and protection of human rights as the birthright of all human beings and the responsibility of governments at all levels. The resulting document of the conference was the Vienna Declaration and Programme of action, which outlines a comprehensive plan for strengthening the implementation of human rights and focuses on the links between development, government, and the promotion of human rights.

Starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the UN has articulated an international code of human rights based on those rights which are absolutely necessary to our survival and without which we cannot live fully as human beings. These rights include, but are not limited to, a broad range of internationally accepted rights in civil, cultural, economic, political, and social areas. Not only had the UN defined a broad range of internationally accepted rights, but it had also established effective mechanisms with which to promote and protect these rights while assisting governments in carrying out their responsibilities. The UN Commission on Human Rights, the main body of human rights in the United Nations, is the forum where organisations can voice their concerns about human rights, and is the only intergovernmental body that holds public meetings on humans rights violations in the world. In 1989, the General Assembly called a second world meeting (first being in Tehran 1968) that would review and assess progress made in the field of human rights since the adoption of the Universal Declaration in 1948. When this second Conference was called, there was an overwhelming sense that human rights needed to be better integrated into the overall policies and programs promoting economic and social development, democratic structures, and peacekeeping. In this sense, Vienna, and its five year follow up, were reflections of a commitment reached by the international community to address human rights issues.

During the Conference issues centred around the promotion and protection of human rights and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted. This underscored the universality of human rights as the birthright of all human beings and the first responsibility of all governments involved. It also addressed other issues concerned with the legitimacy of development, protection of vulnerable groups (i.e. women, children, indigenous people, refugees, etc.), and pointed out that extreme poverty and social exclusion are violations of human dignity, thus requiring that the State foster poverty eradication and participation by poorest members of society. Also, spawning out of the knowledge and information highlighted by the conference, the General Assembly proclaimed in 1994 the UN Decade for Human Rights (1995-2004) which promotes awareness and encourages the establishment of national and international committees composed of representatives from the public and private sector. In the end, the UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali told the delegates of the Conference that by adopting the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action they had renewed the international community’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and saluted the meeting for having forged "a new vision for global action for human rights into the next century."

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International Conference on Population and Development

Cairo ‘94

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in September of 1994, witnessed the development of new strategies which focus on meeting the needs of individual men and women rather than only target groups. Those attending the conference included representatives from 179 governments and over 1,500 NGO's from 113 countries, gathered in order to discuss issues centred around population, sustainable development and economic growth. The result of these discussions was the Programme of Action of the ICPD, an outline of procedures that would guide both national and international policies on population and development for the following twenty years.

During the World Population Conference, held in Bucharest 1974, the issues concerned with population were fully addressed by the international community and a World Population Plan of Action was established. This Plan provided principle objectives concerning economic and social development in the realm of population. The principles included but were not limited to: the formulation of population policies is the independent right of each nation; any individual has the right to freely decide the number of children along with the information and educational means to aid in the decision; and, finally, the declaration that population and development are coincidental. The following International Conference on Population, held in Mexico City in 1984, adopted many recommendations regarding the Plan with a central focus on the need to improve the status of women and provide universal access to family planning methods. As a result, this modified version of the Plan would serve as the basis for the discussions held at the ICPD in Cairo.

After discussion, the ICPD formulated the Programme of Action which provides an outline for all people to become aware of ways to enhance their own and their children’s health and well-being. This plan of action recognises the coincidences between population and development and aspires to make evident to everyone their reproductive rights including: the right of access to family planning practices and the right to determine the amount of children they wish to have. The three main goals set by the Programme included: making family planning universally available by 2015 in order to reduce infant and maternity mortality rates; integrating population concerns into all policies with within the realm of sustainable development; and making available to women and girls the opportunities for education, health, and employment services in order to provide them with more options. In the end, the Programme set goals in three areas that will guide both national and international policies on development and population for the twenty years to come. Thus making it a major point on the road to 2002 and sustainable development.

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The World Summit for Social Development

Copenhagen ‘95

In March of 1995 the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD) was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, making the promotion of a people centred plan for social development evident to the governments of the world. The Summit was attended by representatives from 186 governments, with 117 represented by heads of state, and 2,315 representatives from 811 non-governmental organisations were also present. Discussions at the Summit were centred around the issues of poverty eradication, social integration, and the reduction of unemployment with the promotion of productive employment. As a result of these discussions the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and Programme of Action were drafted and endorsed by all states in attendance, representing the largest consensus on social development issues ever reached at the international level.

The WSSD was held as a result of the growing international concern with social development problems, specifically dealing with poverty and social disintegration, conflict, and insecurity. These problems became evident to both rich and poor, and in turn promoted a great concern for solutions. These solutions, being out of any single government’s reach were not easily accessible and not usually socially and economically balanced. As a result, the WSSD had as one of its primary goals making evident, ways to do away with such imbalances by placing social development back on the international agenda.

After the discussions at the Summit and both the Declaration on Social Development and the Programme of Action were adopted, the issue was, most definitely, back on the table. The Declaration established ten commitments with each followed by a method of action. A sample of these commitments included: eradicating poverty through national action and international co-operation, giving priority to rights and needs of vulnerable groups (i.e. women, children, indigenous people, etc.); the promotion of full and freely chosen employment; the promotion of universal access to education and health care; the promotion of social integration through the protection of human rights and respect for cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity; and the promotion of equity between women and men. Other results of the conference included the General Assembly established International Year for the Eradication of Poverty (1996) as a way to promote a heightened awareness and encourage action on a global scale. A decade with this same focus was also established and began in 1997. The Summit was deemed the nexus of a series of global conferences concerning social development, and, in turn, has influenced the policy making process for a new era.

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The World Conference on Women

Beijing ‘95

The 1995 World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, brought together almost 50,000 men and women from across the globe to discuss gender issues. Included in this number were 189 governments and 5,000 representatives from 2,100 non-governmental organisations with 30,000 individuals attending the independent NGO Forum 95'.The conference was centred around but not limited to the themes of: the advancement and empowerment of women in relation to women's human rights, women and poverty, women and decision-making, the girl-child, and violence against women. The resulting document was the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which, among other things, set out measures for national and international action for the advancement of women over the five years until 2000.

The motive to hold the fourth world Conference on Women stemmed primarily from the momentum generated by the three previous women's conferences ( Mexico City '75, Copenhagen '80, Nairobi '85) and also from the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985). All of these movements gave international awareness to and support for national and international women's groups around the globe while influencing the series of world conferences from the Children's Summit in New York where the special needs of the girl-child were addressed; to the Earth Summit in Rio, where the need for acknowledgement of women's central role in sustainable development was emphasised; to the Human Rights conference in Vienna where the equal rights of women was recognised; to the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen which addressed the central role that women have to play in combating poverty; to Cairo and Istanbul where women's right to exercise control over decisions affecting their health, families, and homes was underscored. All of these meeting paved the way for the Beijing Conference to reach the objectives of ensuring equality of women, preventing violence against women, and advancing their participation in efforts to promote peace along with economic and political decision making, areas where progress was lacking.

After discussion at the conference, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted. An example of the advances made in the Platform include: women's rights as human rights ( recognising violence against women as a human rights problem and also allowing women control over sexuality and reproductive health); reviewing laws containing punitive measures against women who have undergone illegal abortion; and recognising rape as a war crime punishable by law. In the end, the overriding message of the Conference was that the issues addressed in the Platform for Action are both global and universal. The conference recognised that, in countries across the globe, cultural traditions, attitudes, and practices promote inequality and discrimination against women, in both public and private life. As a result, the Conference realised that the implementation of the Platform requires changes in values, attitudes, practices and priorities at all levels. The Conference supported a clear commitment to international standards of which the equality between men and women is promoted, protected, and measured with emphasis on the human rights of women and girl-children. The recognition of this as an integral part of universal human rights and mandating that institutions at all levels must be reoriented to expedite its implementation proved to be another major step on the road to 2002.

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United Nations Conference on Human Settlements

Istanbul ‘96

The Second UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II ( The City Summit)) held in Istanbul in 1996, was of the last in a cycle of major UN conferences which have shaped the global development agenda for the years to come. The focus, brought together the issues dealt with at earlier conferences as they relate to the pressing problem of the rapid urbanisation of today's world. Those attending the conference included representatives from 171 governments and an unprecedented 8,000 people from 2,400 non-governmental organisations (who were allowed access, for the first time, to participate in deliberations as full partners) and focused their discussions on the principle themes of sustainable human settlements development in the urbanising world with the provision of adequate shelter for all. As a result, the Conference adopted The Habitat Agenda, a plan that provides an effective tool for creating sustainable human settlements for the next generation with regard to broad-based sustainable development ( i.e. the environment, human rights, social development, women, population, etc.) in the specific context of urbanisation.

The First UN Conference on Human Settlement in Vancouver ‘76, had sought to develop strategies to suppress the negative effects of rapid urbanisation; while twenty years later half of the world's population resides in cities, with the majority living in poverty. The UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) was established in Nairobi in 1978 and serves as the nexus for human settlements development within the UN system and also as the Secretariat of both the Commission on Human Settlements and Habitat II. In 1988, the General Assembly adopted the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000, emphasising an enabling approach where governments do not provide shelter itself, but a co-ordinating legal institution and regulatory environment to motivate people to provide and improve upon their own living conditions. The Habitat II Conference would review and evaluate this Strategy and UN Centre being prompted by the Rio Summit in 1992 where it was made clear that 600 million people live in threatened housing conditions throughout the world.

During the conference the participants agreed to address many important issues concerning human settlements including: unsustainable consumption and production patterns, unsustainable population changes, homelessness, unemployment, lack of basic infrastructure and services, growing insecurity and violence, and increased vulnerability to disasters. After discussion of the issues the Habitat Agenda was formulated as an acting guide towards achieving broad-based sustainable development of the world's cities, towns, and villages into the first two decades of the next century. Included within the Agenda are a statement of goals, commitments, and strategies for implementation. The goals within the Agenda include: poverty eradication, strengthening of family, partnership among countries, increased financial resources, etc. The commitments cover adequate shelter for all, sustainable settlements, gender equality, financing of settlements, international co-operation, and the assessment of progress. The strategies emphasise that individuals, families, and communities must be enabled to improve their housing, and the government should promote better housing by prohibiting discrimination and ensuring legal security. Habitat II offered a positive vision of sustainable human settlements where all have shelter, a healthy and safe environment in which to live with basic services provided.

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World Food Summit

Rome ‘96

The World Food Summit, held in Rome in 1996, was the first ever global gathering of heads of state and government to address the problems of hunger and malnutrition; coming at a time when slowing growth of global food production was matched to an expanding world population producing growing international concern. The purpose of the meeting was to establish a new concern in the fight for food security by focusing the attention of policy and decision makers in the public and private sectors on the food issues. In attendance were 186 Governments, including 41 represented by presidents, 15 by vice presidents, and 41 by prime ministers, not to mention many representatives from the NGO community. The conference was focused around food security and participants were renewing their commitment to ensure that everyone in the world has sufficient access to nutritious food in order for survival and a healthy life. The Summit adopted the Rome Declaration and the World Food Summit Plan of Action which outline methods to achieve universal food security and reduce, by half, the current number of undernourished people in developing countries by 2015.

The World Food Conference, held in Rome in 1974, first addressed the issue of food security on a world-wide scale. It took place during a time when food reserves were diminishing and governments then proclaimed that "every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition in order to develop their physical and mental faculties." With goals of eradicating hunger and establishing food security within a decade, considerable progress had been made but goals were not met. This promoted a deep concern about global food insecurity and, in turn, prompted the FAO to call a World Food Summit of government heads to address the growing problems of world hunger and food insecurity.

The resulting documents of the Summit included both the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action. The Plan of action outlines seven commitments to be carried out on the part of governments participating. These commitments are expected to aid significantly in the fight to eradicate hunger and are concerned in the areas of: general conditions for economic and social progress to insure food security; poverty eradication and access to food; sustainable increases in the production of food; contribution of trade to food security; preparedness, prevention, and response to food emergencies; optimal investment in human resources and comprehensive sustainable development; and co-operation in the implementation and monitoring of the Plan of Action. In the end, the main goal of the Summit remained, it was to reduce by half the number of malnourished people in the world by 2015.

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United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

South Africa ‘96

In April and May of 1996 the ninth session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) met in South Africa in order to promote growth and sustainable development in the globalising and liberalising world economy. Those in attendance included representatives from 120 governments, including five heads of state, and 100 NGO's. As it was the ninth meeting regarding trade and development, the Conference confronted issues dealing with the negative effects of the Uruguay Round of trade liberalisation agreements on developing countries' economies and the need to begin instituting the ideas of globalisation and liberalisation into national and international policies.

As a result of the Conference, and the new policy environment that was established there, were both the Midrand Declaration and a Partnership for Growth and Development. Within these documents was the idea that UNCTAD should concentrate on the following four areas: globalisation and development; investment, enterprise development and technology; international trade of goods, services, and commodities; and infrastructure for development and trade efficiency. Also, among these items was the request of integration of representatives from the civil realm into its work, referring specifically to the NGO, business, and academic sectors of society. In regards to the implementation of these programs, three commissions of the Trade and Development Board were established. These commissions included: Commission on Trade in Goods, Services, and Commodities; Commission on Investment, Technology, and Related Financial Issues; and the Commission on Enterprise, Business Facilitation, and Development. In the end, the objective of UNCTAD remains dedicated to all facets of development and with this ninth meeting a new commitment was put across by Member States to ensure the implementation of these new plans with a tenth review meeting set for Thailand in the year 2000.

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Earth Summit II

New York '97

The Earth Summit II review process was a provision of Rio '92 contained in Agenda 21.  It presented the first significant opportunity to assess the implementation and progress made on the agreements met in Rio at the first Earth Summit.   In addition the meeting provided a forum to map out the international programme of work, specifically on the agenda of action of the Commission on Sustainable Development, up to Earth Summit III in 2002.  This Special Session did not in itself provide any major developments in the field of Sustainable Development, but its frank assessment did clearly assess progress and set a more pragmatic agenda.

The detailed negotiations were undertaken by official working groups and Ministerial working groups.  The official working groups undertook work on specific topics, whilst the Ministerial working group focussed on providing a political breakthrough to three key issues.  These were; Forestry and whether or not to work towards negotiating a convention; Climate Change and the political steer to the next Conference of Parties to the Convention; and financial issues, specifically regarding the decline in levels of aid flowing from North to South.  Numerous informal meetings ran parallel to this process, and involved representatives from NGO's, Governments and Major Groups.   These served to be focus for experience sharing, as well as exerting indirect influence on the negotiations themselves.

Outcomes were mixed.  Conclusions on matters relating to poverty were strong, but were undermined by an inability to agree positive steps on finance development.  Work on the Freshwater agenda opened up opportunities for gains to be made under the CSD at its 1998 session.  Negotiations on Climate Change provided the political space for work committing to legally binding targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which later took place at Kyoto, December 1997.  Despite European pressure, negotiations did not extend far enough to open the way for a Convention on Forests.  There was enough momentum, however, to establish a forum to carry forward international consensus on the issue.  Widespread concern was unilaterally expressed on over-fishing, which is driving many species to extinction.  The main follow-up identified the need to reinforce and implement more strongly the various international agreements on Environment and Development issues.

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Earth Summit 2002/ Partners / Acronyms / Staff / Issues

UN Conventions Focus / Global Agencies / UN Conference Focus

Site Map / Major Group Organisations / UN Commissions Focus/ Regional Agencies

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