Wednesday, April 24, 2024

International conventions and agreements on sustainable development

By Aditi Sahu

The first international conference in 1972 held in Sweden known as the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, popularly known as Stockholm Declaration, 1972 was where nations discussed the matter of sustainable development. This was the first conference on sustainable development.

Further, the Brundtland Report published in 1987, which warned the negative environmental consequences of economic growth and globalization, and attempted to find possible solutions to the problems caused by industrialization and population growth.

For achieving sustainable development, various treaties, conventions, and agreements were signed between the nations to date since Stockholm Declaration, 1972.  Even, the United Nations approved the 2030 Agenda, which includes the Sustainable Development Goals, as part of a new sustainable development roadmap. The 2030 Agenda is a call to action to protect the planet and ensure people’s global well-being. Individuals, businesses, governments, and countries all over the world must work together to achieve these common objectives.

All about Sustainable Development

We have a responsibility to future generations, and a bright today with a bleak tomorrow cannot be tolerated. This statement refers to the Sustainable Development principle of meeting the needs of the present without jeopardizing future generations’ ability to meet their needs. Sustainable development necessitates meeting everyone’s basic needs and providing everyone with the opportunity to realize their dreams of a better life.

Many of humanity’s challenges, such as climate change, water shortages, inequality, and hunger, can only be addressed at a global level and through the promotion of sustainable development, which is characterized as a dedication to social advancement, environmental balance, and economic prosperity. The principle of Sustainable Development emphasis two basic needs:

  • First and foremost, there is a need for socio-economic development (Socioeconomic development incorporates public concerns in the development of social policy and economic initiatives.) The ultimate goal of social development is to improve the well-being of individuals, groups, families, communities, and society as a whole on a long-term basis. It entails a sustained increase in a country’s population’s economic standard of living, which is typically accomplished by increasing physical and human capital stocks and thus improving technology.)
  • Second, there is a need to impose constraints on the environment’s ability to meet current and future demands.

Objective or pillars of Sustainable Development

Sustainable Progress aims to strike a balance between human development and environmental protection, and is thus “a promise to the present and a bequest to future generations.” As a result, the sustainable development principle aims to achieve three primary objectives:

  1. Social Sustainability: Maintaining and improving the quality of life through equitable distribution of wealth and material resources through efficient production of goods and services. The ability of a society, or any social structure, to maintain a high level of social well-being across time is known as social sustainability. Achieving social sustainability assures that a country’s, organization’s, or community’s social well-being can be sustained throughout time;
  2. Environmental Sustainability: Conservation and management of natural resources, including biodiversity preservation and biological integrity. Environmental sustainability means that we live within the limits of our natural resources. To truly live in environmental sustainability, we must ensure that we consume natural resources such as materials, energy fuels, land, water, and so on at a sustainable rate. Some resources are more abundant than others, thus we must examine scarcity, environmental damage from extraction, and whether the resource can be retained within Circular Economy principles. We must ensure net-zero carbon emissions for achieving environmental sustainability; and
  3. Economic Sustainability: Maintenance and enhancement of the quality of life through equitable distribution of wealth and material resources. Economic sustainability necessitates a business or country’s efficient and responsible use of resources to operate sustainably and constantly earn a profit. A company’s operations cannot be sustained without an operating profit. A company’s activities will not be able to be sustained in the long run if it does not act properly and use its resources efficiently.

International Conventions and Agreements on Sustainable Development

United Nations Conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm, Sweden (1972)

This is referred to as the Stockholm Declaration of 1972. This was the first historical Sustainable Development Conference. It declared that “defending and improving the human environment for current and future generations” has become an imperative goal for society. This declaration consists of twenty-six principles known as the Magna Carta on Human Environment.

According to Principle 8[i] of the Stockholm Declaration, “Sustainable Development is required to improve the environment.”

The Declaration includes a plan of action that outlines principles for the preservation and enhancement of the human environment, as well as recommendations for international environmental actions. The conference also established the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the first UN program devoted solely to environmental issues.

UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992)

It is also known as the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, and the Rio Declaration focuses on Sustainable Development. The primary message of the declaration was that “a transformation of attitudes and behavior would bring about the necessary changes, but more awareness of the impact of excessive consumption on the environment was required. Every country’s government must recognize the need to reroute international and national projects and policies to ensure that economic decisions take environmental impacts into account.”

In the Rio Declaration, it was also stated that harmful components such as gasoline and dangerous waste would be studied, and that future energy alternatives should be developed. The necessity to rethink public transportation systems to minimize emissions and combat health problems caused by filthy air in cities was considered a critical challenge for achieving sustainable development.

The following are some of the principles of the Rio Declaration on Sustainable Development, which was signed in 1992:

  • Principle 3[ii]: The right to development must be respected to address the development and environmental demands of current and future generations fairly and equitably.
  •  Principle 4[iii]: Environmental protection must be considered as an inherent part of the development process to achieve sustainable development.

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992)

The Convention on Climate Change was one of the conventions adopted at the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro.

The convention’s primary goal is to “stabilize the greenhouse concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” The increased concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) causes additional warming of the earth’s surface and atmosphere, but it may harm natural ecosystems and humanity. It also mentioned the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer from 1985 and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer from 1987.

The Convention also states that:

  1. Each State (nation) Party shall develop national policies and implement corresponding measures to mitigate climate change by limiting anthropogenic GHG emissions, and
  2. Each State (nation) Party shall protect and enhance its greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs.

The member countries are required to promote and collaborate in scientific, technological, socioeconomic, and other research, systematic observation, and development of data archives related to the climate system, as well as exchanges them with other countries.

Article 5: The member parties shall promote and facilitate the educational and public awareness program on climate change at the national level through national laws and regulations, as well as the training of scientists, technocrats, and managerial personnel in this field, through national laws and regulations.

Article 6: The member states shall encourage public participation and access to information.

  1. Agenda 21

Agenda 21 was accepted as one of the tools during the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. It is a non-binding instrument that has provided specific plans and other detailed programs to prevent environmental deterioration and promote ecologically sound and long-term development. It also promotes worldwide cooperation among world governments, the general public, and non-governmental voluntary organizations for the above-mentioned purposes.

The four parts of Agenda 21 are:

  • Socioeconomic dimensions (habitat, health, demography, consumption and production patterns, and so on);
  • Conservation and resource management (atmosphere, forest, water, waste, and so on);
  • Strengthening the role of NGOs and other social action groups such as trade unions, women’s organizations, and so on; and
  • Implementation measures (finances, institutional machinery, etc.).

The agenda includes measures for toxic-chemical hazardous waste management, solid and sewage waste management, radioactive waste management, and biotechnology management. Other provisions for the protection of oceans, seas, coastal areas, a reliable supply of freshwater resources, and the environment have also been incorporated.

The Kyoto Protocol (1997)

The parties to the 1992 Convention on Climate Change were signatories to this protocol. The protocol’s key goals are:

  • To protect and improve GHG sinks and reservoirs;
  •  Promote afforestation and reforestation;
  •  Encourage research, development, and expanded use of new and renewable energy sources; and
  •  Limit or reduce GHG emissions, particularly methane emissions.

Article 3 of the Kyoto Protocol requires member countries to reduce GHG emissions by at least 5% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002)

The Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002 was a pledge made by the world’s governments to work toward sustainable development. “We commit ourselves to build a humane, equitable, and caring global society, conscious of the need for human dignity for all,” states Principle 2 of the Johannesburg Declaration.

  • It provided a new impetus to global action to combat poverty and protect the environment. The most important aspect of this declaration was:
  • The establishment of a “World Solidarity Fund” for poverty eradication was a positive step forward.
  • Reaffirmation of a “UN Millennium Summit, 2002, health, water, and sanitation, energy, agriculture, biodiversity, and ecosystem management, corporate responsibility, sustainable development of small island developing states, and institutional framework for sustainable development was also key initiatives of this declaration.

The summit came to an end with the following resolution on biological diversity conservation:

  1. Significantly increase the global share of “renewable energy” by 2010;
  2. Significantly reduce the rate at which rare plants and animals become extinct by 2010;
  3. Restore depleted fish stocks by 2015;
  4. Cut in half the number of people who lack clean drinking water by 2015;
  5. Significantly reduce the current rate of biological diversity loss by 2010.

New York World Summit on Sustainable Development (2005)

In 2005, in New York, the world community debated tangible strategies to combat poverty and all types of terrorism, reinforcing their commitment to protecting people from all crimes against humanity, such as genocide and war crimes. Both the Peace-building Commission and the Human Rights Council were established in this fashion to aid in the transition from conflict to peace.

Copenhagen Summit & Sustainable Development (2009)

The Copenhagen Conference marked the culmination of a two-year negotiation that began with COP13 in Bali intending to improve international climate change cooperation. This C Conference was expected to result in a deal and the hope was that it would lead the world toward a path to prevent and combat climate change after the Kyoto Protocol’s deadline. Nonetheless, no specific agreement was reached, and this was not the case. Despite many countries’ pledges to act, the Copenhagen Accord was not formally adopted following the negotiations.

Rio20+ UN Conference on Sustainable Development (2012)

In 2012, Rio de Janeiro hosted the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20. The world leaders decided to launch a process to develop a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) based on the millennium development goals established in the New York United Nations Conference in 2000. The goal of these objectives was to promote sustainable development in a systematic, integrated, and global manner.

Nations agreed to investigate wealth measures other than GDP that take into account environmental and social factors. This was a clear attempt to make amends for nature’s environmental services such as carbon absorption or biodiversity – recognizing these services as critical for long-term development.

Another outcome of this conference was that the UN Environment Programme’s financial resources would be increased. Its governance would also benefit from more universal membership as key UN coordination bodies became more involved. The world leaders also proposed tax changes that would make polluters and landfill operators pay more. They also suggested that fossil fuel subsidies be phased out gradually.

UN Climate Change Conference & Sustainable Development (2014)

In 2014, Peru hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP20. Negotiations toward a global climate agreement began at this meeting. The goal was to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

COP21 & the Paris Agreement for Sustainable Development (2015)

The Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reached a landmark agreement at COP21. They agree to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments required for a low-carbon future. The Paris Agreement brought all nations together for the first time in a common cause: bold efforts to combat and adapt to climate change. It marks a turning point in the global climate effort. One that aims to limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Furthermore, the agreement aims to strengthen nations’ ability to deal with the consequences of climate change.

New York & the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (2015)

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by the 193-member United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2015. This agenda outlines a strategy for people and the planet to thrive in a peaceful and prosperous world.

The world’s leaders recognized that eradicating poverty was the most difficult global challenge to long-term development. They stated that to implement the new agenda, all nations and stakeholders must work together. This program is divided into 17 goals for sustainable development and 169 targets. All of these objectives and targets are inextricably linked to the social, environmental, and economic dimensions of sustainable development.

COP24 in Katowice, Poland (2018)

At the beginning of the conference, the UN General Secretary made an important announcement regarding the fight against climate change. António Guterres warned that humanity has strayed from the desired path. He also emphasized that the majority of nations responsible for GHG emissions are falling behind in their efforts to meet their Paris commitments.

In December 2018, world leaders outlined the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement. At the same time, they establish guidelines for combating climate change in the coming years. Over 160 countries presented plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the remaining ones must do so by 2020.

The international community has also established rules to ensure that nations’ objectives are met after 2024. Every country will present a report on its climate change actions every two years, according to the plan. Specialists will then review these. Nations that do not comply, however, will not be punished (nor fined). In addition, global efforts to keep the Earth’s temperature below 2oC will be evaluated over 5 years. In 2023, this assessment will begin.

Sustainable development must be achieved to maintain not just economic growth but also the quality of life in terms of key environmental criteria. The knowledge of the risks of all sorts of pollution across countries prompted humanity to consider alternatives. International organizations such as the United Nations have convened a variety of Meets, Summits, Conferences, Conventions, Protocols, and Accords to achieve this.

-Aditi Sahu is a 5th year student of BBA LLB, Banasthali Vidyapith


[i]Principle 8 of Stockholm Declaration, 1972-  “Economic and social development is essential for ensuring a favourable living and working environment for man and for creating conditions on earth that is necessary for the improvement of the quality of life.”

[ii] Principle 3 of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, 1992: The right to development must be fulfilled to equitable meet the development and environmental needs of present and future generations.

[iii] Principle 4 of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, 1992: To achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.


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