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Earth Summit II

Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21

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A Brief Introduction


Earth Summit II is the name the NGOs have used for the Special Session the General Assembly of the United Nations convened in 1997 to review the progress made since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. The name "Earth Summit II" was used to underline the great importance of the event, in the hope that it might be as significant as the first Earth Summit.
The United Nations called the same event "Earth Summit +5", and many governments referred to it as "UNGASS" (United Nations General Assembly Special Session).
Another term which you might come across is "Rio +5"; this name is referring to an event held in Rio in March 1997, organised by the Earth Council.



The roots of Earth Summit II reach back to the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, which put environment on the international agenda for the first time. By 1983, the relationship between economic development and its impact on the environment had become the subject of inquiry by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, known as the Brundtland Commission.

In its 1987 report, Our Common Future, the Commission defined sustainable development as "that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs", and called for strategies for integrating environment and development. As a result, the UN General Assembly decided in 1989 to hold a conference that would produce these strategies, and the UN Conference on Environment and Development, or Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992.

At the Earth Summit in 1992, more than 100 heads of state met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the first international Earth Summit convened to address urgent problems of environmental protection and socio-economic development. The assembled leaders signed the Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity, endorsed the Rio Declaration and the Forest Principles, and adopted Agenda 21, a 300 page plan for achieving sustainable development in the 21st century.

The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was created to monitor and report on implementation of the Earth Summit agreements. It was agreed that a five year review of Earth Summit progress would be made in 1997 by the United Nations General Assembly meeting in special session. This special session of the UN General Assembly took stock of how well countries, international organizations and sectors of civil society have responded to the challenge of the Earth Summit.

The main objectives of Earth Summit II were
To revitalize and energize commitments to sustainable development
To frankly recognize failures and identify reasons why
To recognize achievements and identify actions that will boost them
To define priorities for the post-97 period
To raise the profile of issues addressed insufficiently by Rio


The Process of Earth Summit II (by Tom Bigg, UNED-UK)

A two week meeting in February (CSD Intersessional held as PrepCom, Preparatory Committee) led to production of a chairs' draft (put forward by Derek Osborn, UK, and Ambassador Amorim, Brazil). This text formed the basis of negotiations on the main document reviewing progress since Rio, which was drafted during a three week session in April (CSD5 held as PrepCom). In addition, preparation of a shorter Political Statement (or Declaration) was begun. A number of problematic areas remained after the April meeting, so an additional week of negotiations was held before the Special Session in June.
During the Special Session statements were made made in Plenary Debate by 53 Heads of State and Government or Vice Presidents and 75 by Ministers. In addition, 17 heads of international organisations and 12 representatives of major groups addressed the General Assembly.
Working groups met under the auspices of the Committee of the Whole (chaired by Mostafa Tolba, Egypt) throughout the week, and finalized the 'Programme for Further Implementation of Agenda 21'.
Agreement was not reached on the Political Statement. Its purpose was not clear to many delegations, and insurmountable reservations over its content were raised on the final day of the Session. A six paragraph 'Statement of Commitment' has been included in the main document to address some aspects of the Statement.


Outcome of Earth Summit II (by Tom Bigg, UNED-UK)

The text finally agreed at the Special Session concludes that 'the state of the global environment has continued to deteriorate ... and significant environmental problems remain deeply embedded in the socio-economic fabric of countries in all regions' (para 9). However, in the preparations for the meeting governments and blocs of countries took increasingly entrenched positions on some of the core problems which have dogged UN conferences since well before Rio. There seemed to be little willingness, from either Northern or Southern countries, to take dramatic steps forward in key areas to remedy this continuing deterioration.

This was certainly of little surprise to those who have followed these processes closely. Even at the height of optimism marked by the Rio Summit significant actions on finance, the transfer of technology and energy were a bridge too far for many countries. Since then, aid levels have declined by over 20% and are expected to fall still further.

The flow of private capital to developing countries has increased six-fold, but almost all goes to a handful of healthy economies which does very little for the needs of the poorest people. The UN Development Programme's Human Development Report states that 'the ratio of the income of the top 20% to that of the poorest 20% rose from 30 to 1 in 1960, to 61 to 1 in 1991 - and to a startling new high of 78 to 1 in 1994'.

Processes set up since Rio have resulted in progress in a number of areas, and provided the contexts for further developments in future. The Convention to Combat Desertification has entered into force. The Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks created a framework for international consideration of declining fish stocks. Local Agenda 21 has been taken up in many countries, much to the surprise of some national governments. The Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change have been ratified and are now the focus for agreement in key areas. A number of other positive examples are touched on later in this document.

Whether this would be just business as usual or if some sea change could be expected was the question on the lips of many at the start of the Special Session - the world's press included. Governments stated in the final document: 'We reaffirm that Agenda 21 remains the fundamental programme of action for achieving sustainable development. ... We are convinced that the achievement of sustainable development requires the integration of its economic, environmental and social components' (para 3). Very little else in the document suggests that the dramatic changes this implies are imminent.

Taken from a more detailed document available at

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A Government Comment on the Proceedings of Earth Summit II

"We've let the South down. We can't even get started with the objective of sustainable development until rich countries put real resources behind what we know to be their responsibility. I had expected statements to be made here on commitments to increase what they're spending. I'm not saying that the G77 countries are all 'the good guys', but they feel that we have not fulfilled our part of the Rio bargain, and I can't say I blame them."

Rt. Hon John Gummer, MP, Former Secretary of State for the Environment, UK

Further Information

bulletklein.gif (275 bytes) United Nations: General information on Earth Summit II at

bulletklein.gif (275 bytes) The CSD NGO Steering Committee at

bulletklein.gif (275 bytes) UNED-UK: A detailed report at:

"Report on 'Earth Summit II'
The five year review of the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in New York from 23rd to 27th June 1997, by Tom Bigg

Summary of the main outcomes and issues addressed
Outline of the process  / Key issues on the agenda / Roles played by the UK, the EU and NGOs
Background and introduction
Issues of international significance plus UK and EU positions
Forests / Climate change / Development assistance - financing sustainable development / Trade and globalization / Oceans and Seas / Energy / Future role of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)
Issues of significance to national and local implementing of Agenda 21 plus European Union and UK Government's position (where relevant)
Agenda 21's 'Major Groups', including Local Agenda 21 / Indicators of sustainability / Integrating sustainable development into policy making / Changing prevailing patterns of production and consumption / Transport / Fresh water / Eliminating perverse subsidies and use of economic instruments for sustainable development / Agriculture / Tourism / Access to information and public participation in decision-making
UK input to the Special Session
Impact of Government Ministers / Non-governmental input

Lessons for the future

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