AGENDA 21 REVISITED
On June 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, Agenda 21 was aproved in a summit
organized by the United Nations Conference on Environment and
Humanity stands at a defining moment in history.
We are confronted with
1) a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations,
2) a worsening of poverty,
ill health and
3) the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend
for our well-being.
Therefore, the need for:
a) integration of environment and development
b) fulfilment of basic needs,
c) improved living standards for all,
d) better protected and managed ecosystems and
e) a safer, more prosperous future.
no nation can achieve this on its own;
but together we can - in a global partnership for sustainable development.
The main requirements:
global consensus and political commitment at the highest level on
development and environment cooperation,
Its successful implementation is first and foremost the responsibility
-processes are crucial in achieving this.
-international cooperation should support and supplement such
A MULTIDIMENSIONAL UNIVERSE
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DIMENSIONS
1. International cooperation to accelerate sustainable
development in developing countries and related
2. Combating poverty
3. Changing consumption patterns
4. Demographic dynamics and sustainability
5. Protecting and promoting human health conditions
6. Promoting sustainable human settlement development
7. Integrating environment and development in
CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT OF RESOURCES FOR DEVELOPMENT
1. Protection of the atmosphere
2. Integrated approach to the planning and management
of land resources
3. Combating deforestation
4. Managing fragile ecosystems: combating desertification and drought
5. Managing fragile ecosystems: sustainable mountain
6. Promoting sustainable agriculture and rural
7. Conservation of biological diversity
8. Environmentally sound management of biotechnology
9. Protection of the oceans, all kinds of seas,
including enclosed and semi-enclosed seas, and
coastal areas and the protection, rational use and
development of their living resources
10. Protection of the quality and supply of freshwater
resources: application of integrated approaches to
the development, management and use of water
11. Environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals,
including prevention of illegal international
traffic in toxic and dangerous products
12. Environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes,
including prevention of illegal international traffic
in hazardous wastes
13. Environmentally sound management of solid wastes and
14. Safe and environmentally sound management of
STRENGTHENING THE ROLE OF MAJOR GROUPS
1. Global action for women towards sustainable and
2. Children and youth in sustainable development
3. Recognizing and strengthening the role of indigenous
people and their communities
4. Strengthening the role of non-governmental organizations:
partners for sustainable development
5. Local authorities' initiatives in support of Agenda 21
6. Strengthening the role of workers and their trade unions
7. Strengthening the role of business and industry
8. Scientific and technological community
9. Strengthening the role of farmers
MEANS OF IMPLEMENTATION
1. Financial resources and mechanisms
2. Transfer of environmentally sound technology,
cooperation and capacity-building
3. Science for sustainable development
4. Promoting education, public awareness and training
5. National mechanisms and international cooperation
for capacity-building in developing countries
6. International institutional arrangements
7. International legal instruments and mechanisms
8. Information for decision-making
Therefore, what Agenda 21 is proposing, is the creation of a social,
political, and economic environment where the major social groups
which make civil society,
owners of capital, and
create political mechanisms to participate in the management of the
whole society -which will enhance "democracy"- with the purpose of
achieve economic and human development without depleting global
resources and without poisoning the athmosphere of planet earth.
So far, so good. But what kind of management Agenda 21 is having in
WHAT MUST BE DONE?
The international economy should cooperate by:
(a) Promoting sustainable development through trade liberalization;
(b) Making trade and environment mutually supportive;
(c) Providing adequate financial resources to developing countries
and dealing with international debt;
(d) Encouraging macroeconomic policies conducive to environment and
Basis for action
-an open, equitable, secure, non-discriminatory and predictable
multilateral trading system that is consistent with the goals of
sustainable development and leads to the optimal distribution of global
production in accordance with comparative advantage
-a commitment to sound economic policies and management,
-an effective and predictable public administration,
-the integration of environmental concerns into decision-making and
-progress towards democratic government, in the light of country-specific
-conditions, which allows for full participation of all parties concerned.
The commodity sector dominates the economies of many developing
countries in terms of production, employment and export earnings. An
important feature of the world commodity economy in the 1980s was the
prevalence of very low and declining real prices for most commodities in
international markets and a resulting substantial contraction in commodity
export earnings for many producing countries.
The removal of existing distortions in international trade is essential.
a substantial and progressive reduction in the support and
protection of agriculture -covering internal regimes, market
access and export subsidies - as well as of industry and other
sectors, in order to avoid inflicting large losses on the more
efficient producers, especially in developing countries.
World trade has continued to grow faster than world output in recent
However, the expansion of world trade has been unevenly spread, and
only a limited number of developing countries have been capable of
achieving appreciable growth in their exports:
Protectionist pressures and unilateral policy actions
continue to endanger the functioning of an open multilateral
trading system, affecting particularly the export interests
of developing countries.
Therefore, the following is necessary:
(a) To promote an open, non-discriminatory and equitable
multilateral trading system that will enable all countries
- in particular, the developing countries - to improve their
economic structures and improve the standard of living of
their populations through sustained economic development;
(b) To improve access to markets for exports of developing
(c) To improve the functioning of commodity markets and achieve
sound, compatible and consistent commodity policies at national
and international levels with a view to optimizing the
contribution of the commodity sector to sustainable development,
taking into account environmental considerations;
(d) To promote and support policies, domestic and international,
that make economic growth and environmental protection mutually
Accordingly, the international community should:
(a) Halt and reverse protectionism in order to bring about further
liberalization and expansion of world trade, to the benefit of
all countries, in particular the developing countries;
(b) Provide for an equitable, secure, non-discriminatory and
predictable international trading system;
(c) Facilitate, in a timely way, the integration of all countries
into the world economy and the international trading system;
(d) Ensure that environment and trade policies are mutually
supportive, with a view to achieving sustainable development;
The following policies should be adopted by developing countries
with respect to commodities consistent with market efficiency:
(a) Expand processing, distribution and improve marketing
practices and the competitiveness of the commodity sector;
(b) Diversify in order to reduce dependence on commodity exports;
(c) Reflect efficient and sustainable use of factors of production
in the formation of commodity prices, including the reflection
of environmental, social and resources costs.
At this stage, one question is necessary: how international market
could be fair if it is dominated by a few transnational corporation?
1) As we all know, the capitalist system, since the late 1940s, have
witnessed the development of transnational corporations which became
catalysts of fundamental change. In particular, the growth and
complexity of cross-border economic linkages -controlled by
transnational corporations- are embedding the national organization
of economic activity within a global system of processes and
transactions which cannot be controlled by host countries' civil
2) Because the most powerful transnational corporations in manufacturing
and services are also large domestic firms in their home country with a
significant share of domestic assets, employment and output, the
overall influence of transnational corporations is unprecedent
historically, and the transnational corporation, in the home country,
forms a triple alliance with its own government and military
3)By and large, at least one-third of world output is now under the
direct governance of transnational corporations, with the indirect
influence being almost ceratinly much greater (data for 1994). The
influence of transnational corporations on the process of international
economic integration is not only confined to production, they have also
changed the nature and scope of integration. Overall, production of
goods and services in the international sphere is performed to meet
transnational corporations interests' and not the interests of the civil
societies where that production and supply of services take place.
The writers of Agenda 21 seem to ignore that, when they deal with
recipes for reducing foreign debt and improving internal economies:
ABOUT FOREIGN DEBT
Agenda 21 encourages:
1) Creditor banks to participate in debt and debt-service reduction;
2) Strengthened policies to attract direct investment, avoid
unsustainable levels of debt and foster the return of flight
RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
The most notable feature of Agenda 21 is the overt way in which
recommend the implementation of structural adjustment programmes
without mentioning them by name. I quote:
"2.36. Developing countries should consider strengthening their
efforts to implement sound economic policies:
(a) That maintain the monetary and fiscal discipline required to
promote price stability and external balance;
(b) That result in realistic exchange rates;
(c) That raise domestic savings and investment, as well as improve
returns to investment.
(a) Remove the barriers to progress caused by bureaucratic
inefficiencies, administrative strains, unnecessary
controls and the neglect of market conditions;
(b) Promote transparency in administration and decision-making;
(c) Encourage the private sector and foster entrepreneurship by
improving institutional facilities for enterprise creation
and market entry. The essential objective would be to
simplify or remove the restrictions, regulations and
formalities that make it more complicated, costly and
time-consuming to set up and operate enterprises in many
(d) Promote and support the investment and infrastructure required
for sustainable economic growth and diversification on an
environmentally sound and sustainable basis;
(e) Provide scope for appropriate economic instruments, including
market mechanisms, in harmony with the objectives of
sustainable development and fulfilment of basic needs;
(f) Promote the operation of effective tax systems and financial
(g) Provide opportunities for small-scale enterprises, both farm
and non-farm, and for the indigenous population and local
communities to contribute fully to the attainment of
(h) Remove biases against exports and in favour of inefficient
import substitution and establish policies that allow them
to benefit fully from the flows of foreign investment, within
the framework of national, social, economic and developmental
(i) Promote the creation of a domestic economic environment
supportive of an optimal balance between production for the
domestic and export markets.
So, a disguised "structural adjustment programme" will help to achieve
sustainable development. Never mind that open markets, devaluation and
deregulation will speed up world domination by transnational
corporations, and that will acentuate the following:
-flows of capital from poor to rich countries in the form of
interest, rent, profits and depreciation of foreign direct
capital invested in poor countries;
-increased transnationalization of the domestic economies in the
host countries, through increased flows of portfolio investment;
-increased environmental damage thorugh promotion of agribusiness
in developing countries' rural areas, especially for producing
industrial crops (palm oil, etc) and the timber and cattle trade.
G. Hurst, "Rainforest politics", Zed Books, 1990, demonstrates the
1.- The prime cause of forest destruction: the massive commercial
development schemes being promoted in the Third World, in
partnership with transnational corporations (foreign direct
2.- The prime cause of greenhouse effect: CO2 emissions by
industrialized countries. Emissions from cars, and then from
burning coal and oil to produce energy to fabricate goods such
as cars! The polluter number one is United States of America,
with 22% of the total. In industrialized countries, the main
economic agents are transnational corporations!
3.- The prime cause of soil degradation: the intensive use of
chemical pesticides and fertilizers in agribusinesses, especially
cash crops, industrial crops and cattle rising, the majority in
the hands of transnational corporations.
Thus, it looks like Agenda 21 is not a document to look for an
alternative system of production which ensure that human activities
do not destroy planet Earth in the long run. Moreover, it looks
like Agenda 21 is a document to promote free-market, structural
adjustment, World Bank-International Monetary Fund-transnational
corporations economic system...thus, in pursuing "sustainable
development" with Agenda 21 recipe our societies are pushed to
develop even more the dynamics of the capital system, which, in
turn, will create more polarization, more social exclusion, and
more polluting activities...even when the polluters pay money for
having the right to do that...The money price of polluting will
not change the final effect: the destruction of the global
(R.R. December 1997)
What are the links between
and "culture values"-"technology"?
The basic notion to have in mind is "access to resources".
By resources we mean land, water, capital, knowledge, information, etc.
Take the capitalist (free) market: by definition, the capitalist
market is a device that will allocate resources to those who can
afford buying them. Thus, by definition again, society will shape
itself in a continuum from those who cannot afford buying resources
(abject poverty) to those who can afford buying all resources at any
Therefore, poverty and affluence will be the outcome the dinamics of
the capitalist market, creating economic, social, political and
cultural differences within the members of the civil society.
The above will lead to a situation where the affluent sector will seek
to keep that affluence being its dominion. Culture, values, habits and
customs will become ideological tools to build a social structure
whose consensus justifies the existence of differentials in access
The affluent sector's culture, values, habits and customs will shape
the type of technology created, which, in this case, will lead to
support 'overconsumption' ( luxury cars, destruction of manufactures
to be replaced by "the last model", destruction of food in order to
keep prices high enough to produce 'profits', etc). Such technology
will support overconsumption and maximization of profits, thus
overlooking externalities like "environmental degradation" (acid rain,
atmospheric poisoning, greenhouse effect, soil degradation thorugh
overuse of chemicals as pesticides and insecticides, etc).
Thus, affluence will become directly responsible for environmental
degradation (see proceedings in the Kyoto Summit, 1997).
Environmental degradation will push rural poors to take short-term
decisions for survival such as deforestating through burning to clear
fields to cultivate food, which will add to affluence deforestating
to set up cash crops plantations, timber exploitation and cattle
raising for fast food, etc.
At the same time, resource loss because of affluence's technology
will add to differentiation in access to resources, making the outcome
of the capitalist market (creating poverty and wealth) even more
UNCTAD: The Trade and Development Report, 1997 (press release 1) )
Consequently, environmental degradation -as an outcome of polluting
technologies created to meet the needs of an affluent social sector
imposing its cultural values, ideological concepts and habits and
customs to the rest of an unequal society- is happening because
differentials in access to resources (as an outcome of the capitalist
market)creates a social structure prone to overconsume, etc.
THE RIO DECLARATION
A/CONF.151/26 (Vol. I)
12 August 1992
REPORT OF THE UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON
ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT*
(Rio de Janeiro, 3-14 June 1992)
RIO DECLARATION ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development,
Having met at Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992,
Reaffirming the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human
Environment, adopted at Stockholm on 16 June 1972, a/ and seeking to build
With the goal of establishing a new and equitable global partnership
through the creation of new levels of cooperation among States, key sectors
of societies and people,
Working towards international agreements which respect the interests of
all and protect the integrity of the global environmental and developmental
Recognizing the integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our
Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable
development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life
in harmony with nature.
States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the
principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own
resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies,
and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction
or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of
areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet
developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.
In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection
shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be
considered in isolation from it.
All States and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of
eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable
development, in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living
and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world.
The special situation and needs of developing countries, particularly the
least developed and those most environmentally vulnerable, shall be given
special priority. International actions in the field of environment and
development should also address the interests and needs of all countries.
States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve,
protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth's ecosystem. In
view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation,
States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed
countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the
international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures
their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and
financial resources they command.
To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all
people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of
production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.
States should cooperate to strengthen endogenous capacity-building for
sustainable development by improving scientific understanding through
exchanges of scientific and technological knowledge, and by enhancing the
development, adaptation, diffusion and transfer of technologies, including
new and innovative technologies.
Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all
concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each
individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the
environment that is held by public authorities, including information on
hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the
opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall
facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making
information widely available. Effective access to judicial and
administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be
States shall enact effective environmental legislation. Environmental
standards, management objectives and priorities should reflect the
environmental and developmental context to which they apply. Standards
applied by some countries may be inappropriate and of unwarranted economic
and social cost to other countries, in particular developing countries.
States should cooperate to promote a supportive and open international
economic system that would lead to economic growth and sustainable
development in all countries, to better address the problems of
environmental degradation. Trade policy measures for environmental
purposes should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable
discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade.
Unilateral actions to deal with environmental challenges outside the
jurisdiction of the importing country should be avoided. Environmental
measures addressing transboundary or global environmental problems should,
as far as possible, be based on an international consensus.
States shall develop national law regarding liability and compensation
for the victims of pollution and other environmental damage. States shall
also cooperate in an expeditious and more determined manner to develop
further international law regarding liability and compensation for adverse
effects of environmental damage caused by activities within their
jurisdiction or control to areas beyond their jurisdiction.
States should effectively cooperate to discourage or prevent the
relocation and transfer to other States of any activities and substances
that cause severe environmental degradation or are found to be harmful to
In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be
widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are
threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific
certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective
measures to prevent environmental degradation.
National authorities should endeavour to promote the internalization of
environmental costs and the use of economic instruments, taking into
account the approach that the polluter should, in principle, bear the
cost of pollution, with due regard to the public interest and without
distorting international trade and investment.
Environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument, shall be
undertaken for proposed activities that are likely to have a significant
adverse impact on the environment and are subject to a decision of a
competent national authority.
States shall immediately notify other States of any natural disasters or
other emergencies that are likely to produce sudden harmful effects on the
environment of those States. Every effort shall be made by the
international community to help States so afflicted.
States shall provide prior and timely notification and relevant
information to potentially affected States on activities that may have a
significant adverse transboundary environmental effect and shall consult
with those States at an early stage and in good faith.
Women have a vital role in environmental management and development.
Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable
The creativity, ideals and courage of the youth of the world should be
mobilized to forge a global partnership in order to achieve sustainable
development and ensure a better future for all.
Indigenous people and their communities and other local communities have
a vital role in environmental management and development because of their
knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and duly
support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective
participation in the achievement of sustainable development.
The environment and natural resources of people under oppression,
domination and occupation shall be protected.
Warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. States
shall therefore respect international law providing protection for the
environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further
development, as necessary.
Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and
States shall resolve all their environmental disputes peacefully and by
appropriate means in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
States and people shall cooperate in good faith and in a spirit of
partnership in the fulfilment of the principles embodied in this
Declaration and in the further development of international law in the
field of sustainable development.
* * * * *
a/ Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human
Environment, Stockholm, 5-16 June 1972 (United Nations publication,
Sales No. E.73.II.A.14 and corrigendum), chap. I.
END OF BOX 1___________________________________________________________
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