World summit aims to save the environment


By Andrew Garton

Preparations are well under way for the first ever "Earth Summit" — the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from June 1 to 12, 1992.

"The primary goal of the summit will be to lay the foundation for a global partnership between developing and industrialised countries, based on mutual need and common interests, to ensure the future of the planet", states Maurice Strong, secretary-general of the conference.

A highlight will be the observance of World Environment Day on June 5, 1992, the 20th anniversary of the opening of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972.

The Brazil summit is intended to ensure that the environment becomes central to policy making and implementation in almost every sector of economic life. It will seek agreement on concrete measures to reconcile economic activities with the need to protect the planet and ensure a sustainable future for all people.

The General Assembly decided that member states should be represented at the conference by heads of state or government. It is expected to be the largest summit meeting to date. International organisations, non-government groups and private-sector interests will also take part.

The relationship between economic development and environmental impact was recognised at the Stockholm conference. It was also the focus of "Our Common Future", the 1987 report of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development.

However, between 1972 and 1987, too little was done to integrate concerns for development and the environment in economic planning and decision making. Despite progress in specific instances, overall the environment of the planet deteriorated. Ozone depletion, global warming and other major environmental problems grew more serious.

In an effort to maintain the quality of the environment and achieve environmentally sound, sustainable development, the conference will address:

  • protection of the atmosphere (climate change, depletion of the ozone layer, air-pollution across national boundaries);

  • protection of land resources (combating deforestation, soil loss, desertification and drought);

  • conservation of biological diversity;

  • protection of fresh water resources;

  • protection of oceans, seas and coastal areas, and the rational use and development of their living resources;

  • environmentally sound management of biotechnology and hazardous wastes (including toxic chemicals);

  • prevention of illegal traffic in toxic products and wastes;

  • improvement in the quality of life and human health;

  • improvement in living and working conditions of the poor by eradicating poverty and stopping environmental degradation.

The conference will look at underlying patterns of development which cause stress to the environment. Poverty in developing countries, levels of economic growth, unsustainable patterns of consumption, demographic pressures and the impact of the international economy are issues that will be addressed.

The conference is expected to produce:

  • an Earth Charter that will embody basic principles which must govern the economic and environmental behaviour of peoples and nations to ensure "our common future";

  • Agenda 21, a blueprint for action in all major areas affecting the relationship between the environment and the economy. It will focus on the period up to the year 2000 and extend into the 21st century;

  • the means to carry out the agenda by making available to developing countries the additional financial resources and environmentally sound technologies they require to participate fully in global environmental cooperation and to integrate environmental considerations into development policies and practices;

  • agreement on strengthening institutions in order to implement these measures;

Conventions on climate change, biological diversity and, perhaps, forestry may be negotiated prior to the conference and signed or agreed to in Brazil.