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Agenda 21 & Sustainable Development


At the Earth Summit in 1992 an agenda on worldwide sustainable development was formulated. This agenda, Agenda 21, is a blueprint on how to make development socially, economically and environmentally sustainable into the next century. It addresses economic and development issues, the conservation and management of the world's resources, and the implementation of Agenda 21. Governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), industry and the general public are all targeted. Agenda 21 provides a global framework for tackling today's global environmental problems: climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss, desertification and deforestation.

Social and Economic Dimensions

Combating Poverty

Agenda 21 calls for national programmes of action that recognise the association between poverty and environmental degradation by focusing on resources, production and people. These national programmes should aim to enable the poor to earn a sustainable living and become self-sufficient. Agenda 21 encourages governments to give more responsibility to local groups in the planning of anti-poverty programmes so that they can participate in the sustainable management of the land.

Changing Consumption Patterns

Agenda 21 calls for a change of existing production and consumption patterns, and for industrialised countries to take a leading role in the process. National programmes should encourage and promote efficient production and waste minimisation in industry, sustainable patterns of production and consumption, environmental charges, such as taxing goods that are not environmentally friendly, the use of eco-labels on appliances, and the raising public awareness of energy efficiency and recycling.

Population & Human Health

The rapidly increasing population places even greater demands on natural resources, employment, social and health services. Agenda 21 calls for governments to address the links between population dynamics and sustainability, and identify carrying capacities. Community groups will need to participate in the implementation of such programmes, requiring support of political, religious and traditional authorities. Furthermore, the quality of the environment has a strong association with the standard of human health. Poor health is often a result of poverty, especially in developing countries. Agenda 21 recommends that every national health programme should provide for the development of basic local health care and staff training, develop immunisation programmes to control communicable diseases, and provide specific health measures for the most vulnerable groups, including infants, women and indigenous peoples.

Human Settlements

Many cities are fast approaching their population carrying capacity. Traffic congestion, poor air quality, homelessness and lack of clean water are just some of the problems facing our cities today. Agenda 21 calls for the development of urban renewal projects and transportation strategies, the provision of access to land, and credit and low cost building materials for the poor. The reduction of migration to big cities by improving living conditions and employment opportunities in rural areas is also stressed.

Conservation and Management of Resources

Atmospheric Protection

Agenda 21 calls for action in the energy production sector, transport and industry, through the promotion and development of energy efficient programmes, regional energy plans, public-awareness campaigns of environmentally sound energy systems, and research into more fuel-efficient transport systems.


Agenda 21 calls for governments, business and NGOs to introduce programmes of afforestation, reforestation, sustainable land use and water resource management. Governments are encouraged to develop education programmes about environmentally sustainable resource management.

Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development

Current methods of farming, particularly in developing countries, often result in desertification and deforestation; the challenge facing agriculture is to meet the food requirements of the growing population in a sustainable manner. Agenda 21 urges the development of long-term land conservation and rehabilitation programmes, by encouraging people to invest in the future through land ownership.

Conservation of Biological Diversity and Management of Biotechnology

Habitat destruction, over-harvesting, pollution and the introduction of foreign species are the main factors of biodiversity decline. Agenda 21 calls for governments to undertake national biodiversity assessments and formulate strategies to conserve and sustainably use biological diversity.

Protecting and Managing the Oceans and Fresh Water

Agenda 21 calls for nations to develop policies which address unsustainable fishing practices, the creation of marine protection zones, and the surveillance and enforcement of fisheries regulations. National water management practices should be integrated into economic and social policies. Agenda 21 sets 2025 as the realistic target date for universal water supplies, and one objective is to develop low-cost services which can be built and maintained at the community level.

Managing Wastes

Agenda 21 calls for an international strategy to manage the production and disposal of wastes, including hazardous waste, solid waste and sewage, and radioactive waste. Governments should encourage and assist industry in achieving cleaner production technologies, and promote changes in lifestyles, production and consumption, through recycling and fund public education initiatives. Countries which generate nuclear waste should adopt an integrated approach to the safe management, transportation, storage and disposal of radioactive wastes.

Implementing Sustainable Development

All nations will have to make political, social and economic commitments to ensure that the means are available to implement Agenda 21. International funding organisations, such as the International Development Association and the Global Environment Facility should help developing countries meet the additional expenses of carrying out Agenda 21. The United Nations Development Programme should have the resources in helping countries to develop technical skills to implement sustainable development. Developed countries should help promote the transfer of technology to developing countries.

The success with which Agenda 21 is implemented should be monitored. There is a need for international law which observes the balance between the need of development and for environmental protection. The main objectives should include: international standards of environmental protection which take account of different situations and abilities of individual countries; an international review of environmental laws to make them more effective; and measures to avoid or settle international disputes.


Meeting the aims and objectives of Agenda 21 within the time frame established by the 1992 Earth Summit will pose great social, economic and technological difficulties, both for developing and developed nations. The development that has been witnessed during the 20th century has already committed humanity to unforeseen changes to biodiversity, the atmosphere and global climate. The new challenge for today's society is to ensure that future development and the use of the Earth's resources are managed sustainably, thereby safeguarding the quality of life for generations of the 21st century and beyond.