The history of sustainable development in the United Nations is shaped by three main conferences, whose accomplishments are considered as milestones in the promotion of sustainable development.
1972: Environmental focus
The first United Nations Conference on the topic of the environment was held in 1972 in Stockholm. The conference is considered as marking the birth of international environmental policy as it was the first occasion on which environmental issues were discussed at global level. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), which has its headquarters in Nairobi, was founded that same year. UNEP is considered at the United Nations as the “Voice for the Environment”.
1992: Sustainable development focus
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. During this world summit in 1992, the international community agreed on a plan of action on sustainable development for the 21st century entitled Agenda 21. Other important achievements of the Rio summit included the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the Forest Principles.
2002: Social focus
The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) took place in Johannesburg in 2002. The significance of Agenda 21 for global development was reinforced and the necessity of its consistent global implementation highlighted at the WSSD. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, which sets new goals for certain sectors such as chemicals, waste and biodiversity, was adopted at the end of the summit. A large number of partnership initiatives were also approved for implementation.
2012: Green economy and governance focus
The Rio+20 Conference will be held in Brazil in 2012. The main goal of Rio+20 is to renew the political commitment to sustainable development. The two main topics of the conference are the development of a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction, and of the institutional conditions for sustainable development, i.e. governance.
More information about the history of sustainable development in the United Nations.
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