Toolkit for Women


Current and Upcoming Issues

UN Documents

Other Intergovernmental Forums

NGO Documents

Other Major Groups Documents

News & Information

Good Practices



Networking Opportunities













Earth Summit II:

Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21

[ Back to Earth Summit II ]

Summary of Outcome: Different Perspectives

An NGO Perspective

A United Nations Perspective

A Media Perspective

line12.gif (1637 bytes)


An NGO Perspective (by Tom Bigg, UNED-UK)(by Tom Bigg, UNED-UK)                                         [ Up ]

The headline stories at 'Earth Summit II' were almost all negative. The global environment shows continuing deterioration, according to the UN Environment Programme's Global Environmental Outlook; no progress was made in agreeing a halt to the decline in aid to developing countries; and the world's biggest polluter, the United States, resisted external pressure to make some move to set domestic targets for reducing CO2 emissions.

As a result of these downbeat messages, many questioned the value of the event, and by implication the usefulness of mechanisms, institutions and processes set up to carry forward the agreements reached in Rio. However, there are grounds for cautious optimism in a number of areas. Real progress has been made over the past five years on issues such as forests, fresh water and transport. In addition, the positive role played by the UK delegation at the Special Session and the high profile taken by the five senior ministers who attended were warmly received by many as a taster for greater things to come.

A very strong UK presence, both in the official delegation and from those outside central government, demonstrated the significance of follow up to Rio in a wide range of domestic contexts. Positions taken by the Government in areas such as local agenda 21, transport and the social and economic aspects of sustainable development reflected debate and action on these issues in the UK.

Outline of process

A two week meeting in February led to production of a chairs' draft (put forward jointly by Derek Osborn of the UK and Ambassador Amorim of 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. 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 in Plenary Debate by 53 Heads of State and Government or Vice Presidents and 75 by Ministers. In addition, 17 heads of international organizations 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 of Egypt) throughout the week, and finalized the 'Programme for the 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.

Some of those most closely involved with the process contrasted the time and the quality of participants devoted to preparation for the Rio Summit with those made available in the run up to Earth Summit II. Certainly in a number of areas time ran out before delegates had adequately considered significant proposals for action.

Key issues on the agenda
climate change - Tony Blair reiterated the UK commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2010; the US resisted pressure to state a target, but for the first time indicated that they would commit to significant reductions and gave indications that a more positive stance could be expected at the Kyoto meeting on the Climate Change Convention.
forests - no agreement was reached to start negotiations for a Forests Convention, despite EU pressure. An Intergovernmental Forum on Forests was set up and will report on 'possible international arrangements and mechanisms' in 1999. This may then entail the start of negotiations for a Convention.
development assistance - the broad picture looks bleak. Levels of Official Development Assistance (ODA) have fallen from 0.34% of GNP in 1992 to 0.25% in 1997, and are projected to decline still further. EU attempts to broker a deal under which donor countries would agree to reverse this decline foundered when Germany and France broke ranks. The UK has made a commitment to increase ODA.
transport - the elimination of lead in gasoline worldwide 'as soon as possible' is called for. The EU pushed the concept of an aviation fuel tax unsuccessfully, but may explore this further within its own borders. Integrated transport systems as an important element for developed countries in meeting CO2 reduction targets were pushed by the UK and others.
tourism - an international programme of action on tourism is to be developed by 1999, with the participation of relevant organizations.
energy - countries should promote international and national programmes for energy and material efficiency with timetables for their implementation. An intergovernmental group on energy and sustainable development will work on development of a programme of action.
fresh water - over a third of the world's population will suffer through lack of access to clean water in the next 25 years. An initiative on fresh water was put forward by the EU to address these issues urgently. This will be carried forward over the next year, and developed further at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) meeting in 1998.
CSD - a five year Programme of work for the Commission was agreed, to include new focuses on energy, transport and tourism. The overarching context in which issues are to be considered annually will be poverty reduction and the creation of sustainable patterns of production and consumption.

The European Union presented three initiatives at the CSD session in April. These proposals, on fresh water, energy and eco-efficiency, constituted one of the few positive calls for action by any governments.

Major Groups were widely praised for their constructive and thorough input throughout the process. Twelve statements by representatives of NGOs and other major groups were made in the General Assembly.

Ambassador Razali of Malaysia, President of the General Assembly, concluded that
"I think that the job is cut out for the NGOs to re-examine this document, see what is wanting, then go back to the grass-roots and push and agitate for more sincere, honest implementation of all the aspects of Rio. It is time to go around and say "we won't elect you if you don't do this or don't do that". That is when the NGOs apply leverage; and this is the right time for it."

line12.gif (1637 bytes)

A United Nations Perspective


Governments agreed that full implementation of the Social Summit programme of action is essential and listed priority actions. A proposal in the draft political statement that Governments would reduce by half, by the year 2015, the proportion of people living in absolute poverty was not kept when the statement was dropped.

Consumption and Production Patterns

An initiative by the European Union on eco-efficiency -- to consider setting a target of achieving a tenfold improvement in productivity in the long term, with a possible four-fold increase in the next two or three decades -- was agreed after it was specified that the targets were intended for industrialized countries. Governments agreed to promote measures to internalize environmental costs and benefits in the price of goods and services, and to consider shifting the burden of taxation on to unsustainable patterns, including by reducing and eliminating subsidies to environmentally harmful activities.


Governments agreed that the current decline in population growth rates must be further promoted through national and international policies, consistent with the report of the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development.


It was decided to set up an Intergovernmental Forum on Forests under the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). The Forum, which will report back to the CSD in 1999, is to monitor and promote implementation of the action proposals agreed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests, as well as build consensus for international mechanisms, for example a legally binding instrument.

The World Bank announced that it would work with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to achieve by the year 2000 a network of protected areas amounting to at least 10 per cent of each of the world's forest types.

Fresh Water

Giving the issue "highest priority", Governments called for a dialogue beginning at the 1998 session of the CSD to consider a strategic approach to preserve and protect freshwater supplies and to build consensus on means of implementation.

Oceans                                                                                                   [ Up ]

Governments agreed on the urgent need to eliminate overfishing, to consider the impact of subsidies to fishing fleets, and to strengthen implementation of existing agreements on marine pollution and sustainable use of oceans.


After long and divisive negotiations, Governments compromised and agreed to consider "legally binding, meaningful, realistic and equitable targets" for developed countries that will result in "significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within specified time frames, such as 2005, 2010 and 2020."

The European Union had sought more specific language -- to reduce emissions by 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010 -- and many European leaders, including United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, challenged the United States to do likewise. Acknowledging that the US produces 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and needs to "do better", US President Bill Clinton pledged to hold a national conference on climate change to build public support for strong action in Kyoto.

The World Bank expressed its support for "joint implementation" under the Framework Convention on Climate Change -- a contentious concept which would allow developed countries to earn credits for assisting developing countries in reducing their emissions -- and its willingness to launch a Carbon Investment Fund to implement such a scheme if it were agreed in Kyoto.


On the contentious issue of energy subsidies and pricing, it was agreed to encourage Governments and the private sector to consider ways to promote internalization of environmental costs in energy prices, and to recognize the need to encourage the reduction and gradual elimination of subsidies that inhibit sustainable development. The need was recognized for "evolving commitments" for the transfer of clean technologies to developing countries. It was also agreed that talks on how to advance sustainable production and use of energy should take place at the CSD in the year 2001, with preparations to take place within an open-ended intergovernmental group of experts.

Land/Desertification                                                                               [ Up ]

It was agreed that Governments should ratify and implement the Convention to Combat Desertification, but while developing countries urged that donor countries provide "new and additional financial resources" to the Global Mechanism to fund the Convention's implementation, developed countries preferred to support a Mechanism that would be able to promote the "mobilization and channeling of substantial resources". Despite protracted talks, a compromise could not be reached and both points of view were reflected in the text. The financing issue is likely to be revisited at the first Conference of Parties to the Convention in September 1997. On other land issues, Governments agreed to combat soil degradation, promote sustainable agriculture, and put into action the recommendations of the World Food Summit.

Toxics, Hazardous and Radioactive Wastes

Governments agreed that safe substitutes for toxic chemicals should be developed and those technologies transferred to poorer countries. The Basel Convention should be further strengthened to define hazardous wastes covered, and a protocol should be negotiated on liability for damage from hazardous wastes shipped across national borders. Governments agreed on the need to support the clean-up of contaminated sites from nuclear activities. In general, radioactive wastes should be disposed of in the country in which they are generated, and each country has a responsibility to ensure proper management, taking into account transboundary effects. Governments should make efforts to prohibit the export of radioactive wastes to countries that do not have appropriate disposal facilities, and they should not allow storage or disposal of radioactive wastes near the marine environment.


Governments agreed on the urgent need to take decisive action to conserve genes, species and ecosystems, to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity, paying further attention to the provision of new and additional resources, and to complete rapidly the biosafety protocol under the Convention.


Although no new specific financial commitments were made, Governments agreed to a general statement that developed countries should fulfil their commitment made in Rio to reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNP for ODA, and that "intensified efforts" should be made to reverse the downward trend in ODA since 1992. A ministerial-level contact group that had sought to set target dates for ODA increases as part of a finance package ended without agreement. Donor countries were urged to provide new and additional resources through a satisfactory replenishment of the Global Environment Facility.

An international tax on aviation fuel -- proposed by the European Union both to incorporate the hidden environmental costs of air travel and to raise funds for sustainable development -- encountered opposition. Governments agreed that studies should continue on the use of such economic instruments in the aviation sector, and the EU is considering applying the tax within its own region.

A proposal for an intergovernmental panel or process on finance for sustainable development was dropped on the understanding that it would be referred to the UN Economic and Social Council.

Technology Transfer                                                                              [ Up ]

Governments called for the urgent fulfilment of all Rio commitments concerning concrete measures for the transfer of environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) to developing countries, to be reviewed regularly by the CSD. Recognizing that the most advanced ESTs are held by the private sector, they called for the creation of an environment conducive to technology-related private investment and public-private partnerships.

International Institutions

Governments called for an enhanced role and adequate funding for a revitalized UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The work programme was decided for 1998-2002 for the Commission on Sustainable Development, which will continue to be the central forum for reviewing implementation of Agenda 21. The next review by the General Assembly was set for 2002. A joint initiative by the Heads of State of Brazil, Germany, Singapore and South Africa, proposing the creation of a global environmental umbrella organization under the UN with UNEP as a major pillar, was not reflected in any official decisions.


For the first time ever, statements were heard in the General Assembly Plenary by twelve representatives of the "major groups" defined in Agenda 21. Some 1,000 representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) attended the session, and dozens of side events advanced new ideas. A Business Roundtable brought together CEOs from a dozen corporations with top-level Government and UN officials to consider how the private sector could be a more active partner in sustainable development.

Other Initiatives

Governments agreed to accelerate the phasing out of leaded gasoline as soon as possible. They also asked the CSD to undertake a work programme to promote sustainable tourism.

taken from
General Information at:

line12.gif (1637 bytes)

A Media Perspective: Earth Negotiations Bulletin                              [ Up ]

The issues that proved most difficult to resolve in 1992 are still problematic today. Questions related to the provision of financial resources and the transfer of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries have haunted conferences from Barbados to Cairo, from desertification negotiations in Paris to climate change negotiations in Berlin and biodiversity negotiations in Buenos Aires. Forests have been the subject of four meetings of the CSD's Intergovernmental Panel on Forests, yet heading into UNGASS there was no agreement on how to proceed. Setting targets and timetables for greenhouse gas emissions reductions proved impossible during the negotiations that resulted in the Framework Convention on Climate Change and are the subject of current negotiations expected to culminate in Kyoto in December. Regulating biotechnology safety almost derailed the biodiversity negotiations in 1992 and is now the subject of negotiations under the Biodiversity Convention.

Earth Negotiations Bulletin UNGASS Summary, 1997, Vol 5 No.88

[ Up ]

[ Back to Earth Summit II ]


[ Home ]          [ E-mail ]          [ Site Map ]

Go to UNED Forum