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The Road From Rio
by jamie h
The World Summit on Sustainable Development
source: iNetNews

Johannesburg, South Africa •• Aug. 26, 2002 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) is being held 10 years after the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), or "Earth Summit", held in June 1992,in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The UNCED involved over 100 Heads of State and Government, representatives from 178 countries, and some 17,000 participants. The principal outputs of UNCED were the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Agenda 21 – a 40-chapter program of action, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Statement of Forest Principles.

Such outputs outlined key policies for achieving sustainable development in order to meet the growing needs of the poor, while considering the limitations of the natural environment to meet the growing global needs of the planet. The term "needs," was interpreted to include not only the economic needs of the present generation, but also included the maintainace of a fully functional global system that includes people and the ecosystems which sustain life and balance. Although progress on the goals outlined in Rio's has fallen far short of its mark, there are some very important outcomes that have shaped development work throughout the preceding 10 years. This report will outline two key negotiating principles that were products of Rio and are under threat of being blocked in Johannesburg. This is the legacy of Rio that must be considered before moving past Rio and into a sustainable future.

  1. The Precautionary Principle. The precautionary principle represents the idea that governments should err on the side of caution when there is the possibility of ecological devestation and irreparable environmental harm. It is the cornerstone of much public policy-making for the environment and public health. Many Corporate industries view this principle as an obstacle of development. In many ways this is true because it requires that they first "show no harm" before making society bear the risks of their experiments.

  2. Common but differentiating responsibilities. This is the understanding that those nations who played the biggest role in causing a problem should take the lead in addressing it. It is especially important to poor nations who do not have the financial or technological resources to act. Many developing nations view climate change, for example, as something caused by the industrialized nations and that they should be the first ones to clean up their act.
Free trade and investment is not synonymous with sustainable development as outlined in the original Earth Summit. It is important that we not sacrifice the work of the past as we reach for resolution in the future.

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