Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine
Polity, Constitution And Governance
Environment Movement under United Nations
The environmental movement might be said to have begun
centuries ago as a response to industrialization. In the nineteenth century, the
British Romantic Poets extolled the beauties of nature, while American writer
Henry David Thoreau praised the return to a simpler life, guided by the values
implicit in nature. It was a dichotomy that continued well into the twentieth
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the rise of the
nuclear age introduced fears of a new kind of pollution from deadly radiation.
The environmental movement gained new momentum in 1962 with the publication of
Rachel Carson’s book “The Silent Spring”, which warned about the agricultural
use of synthetic chemical pesticides. A scientist and writer, Ms. Carson
stressed the need to respect the ecosystem in which we live, in order to protect
human health as well as the environment.
In 1969, the first, iconic photos of the Earth from outer
space touched the hearts of humanity with Its simplicity and beauty. Seeing for
the first time this “big blue marble” in an immense galaxy brought home to many
that we live on One Earth — a fragile, interdependent ecosystem. And our
responsibility to protect the health and well-being of that ecosystem began to
dawn on the collective consciousness of the world.
With the ending of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, its
highest ideals and visions began to be translated into practical form. Among
these was the environmental vision — now, quite literally, a global phenomenon.
As universal concern about the healthy and sustainable use of the planet and its
resources continued to grow, the UN, in 1972, convened the United Nations
Conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm.
It was a landmark event, and its final Declaration contains
19 principles that represent an environmental manifesto for our times. In
addressing the need “to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the
preservation and enhancement of the human environment”, it laid the groundwork
for the new environmental agenda of the United Nations system.
“A point has been reached in history when we must shape our
actions throughout the world with a more prudent care for their environmental
consequences. Through ignorance or indifference we can do massive and
irreversible harm to the earthly environment on which our life and well being
depend. Conversely, through fuller knowledge and wiser action, we can achieve
for ourselves and our posterity a better life in an environment more in keeping
with human needs and hopes …"
“To defend and improve the human environment for present and future
generations has become an imperative goal for mankind.”
Declaration of the UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972),
Picking up on the energy generated by the Conference, the
General Assembly, in December 1972, established the United Nations Environment
Programme (UNEP), which leads the efforts of the United Nations family on behalf
of the global environment. Its current priorities are environmental aspects of
disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, harmful
substances, resource efficiency, and climate change.
In 1983, the Secretary-General of the United Nations invited Dr. Gro Harlem
Brundtland, a medical doctor, master of public health and former Prime Minister
of Norway, to establish and chair a World Commission on Environment and
Dr. Brundtland was a natural choice for this timely role, as
her vision of health had long extended beyond the confines of the medical world
into environmental issues and human development. In April 1987, the Brundtland
Commission, as it came to be known, published its groundbreaking report, “Our
Common Future” — which brought the concept of sustainable development into the
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
“A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will
always be prone to ecological and other crises. … Sustainable development
requires that societies meet human needs both by increasing productive potential
and by ensuring equitable opportunities for all.”
“Many of us live beyond the world's ecological means, for
instance in our patterns of energy use. … At a minimum, sustainable development
must not endanger the natural systems that support life on Earth: the
atmosphere, the waters, the soils, and the living beings.”
“In essence, sustainable development is a process of change
in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the
orientation of technological development; and institutional change are all in
harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and
— from the Brundtland Report, “Our Common Future”
The wide-ranging recommendations made by the Commission led
directly to the holding of the United Nations Conference on Environment and
Development, which placed the issue squarely on the public agenda in a way it
had never been before. Meeting in Rio de Janeiro, in 1992, the “Earth Summit”,
as it came to be known, adopted its “Agenda 21”, a blueprint for the protection
of our planet and its sustainable development. Agenda 21, represented the
culmination of two decades of focused attention, which began with the United
Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held at Stockholm in 1972. Based on
its conclusions, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) was created, to become the
world’s leading environmental agency. By 1992, the link between environment and
development, and the imperative need for sustainable development was seen and
In Agenda 21, governments outlined a detailed blueprint for
action that could move the world away from its present unsustainable model of
economic growth towards activities that will protect and renew the environmental
resources on which growth and development depend. Areas for action included:
protecting the atmosphere; combating deforestation, soil loss and
desertification; preventing air and water pollution; halting the depletion of
fish stocks; and promoting the safe management of toxic wastes.
But Agenda 21 went beyond these purely environmental issues
to address patterns of development which cause stress to the environment. These
included: poverty and external debt in developing countries; unsustainable
patterns of production and consumption; demographic stress; and the structure of
the international economy. The action programme also recommended ways to
strengthen the part played by major groups — women, trade unions, farmers,
children and young people, indigenous peoples, the scientific community, local
authorities, business, industry and NGOs — in achieving sustainable development.
To ensure full support for the goals of Agenda 21, the
General Assembly in 1992 established the Commission on Sustainable Development,
as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council.
The Earth Summit also led to the adoption of the UN Convention on Biological
Diversity (1992) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries
Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa
(1994). In 1994, a Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small
Island Developing States, held in Barbados, adopted a Programme of Action that
set forth policies, actions and measures at all levels to promote sustainable
development for these states.
In what was called the “Earth Summit + 5”, the General
Assembly held a special session in 1997 to review and appraise the
implementation of Agenda 21, and make recommendations for its further
fulfillment. The session’s final document recommended the adoption of legally
binding targets to reduce emission of greenhouse gases leading to climate
change; moving more forcefully towards sustainable patterns of energy
production, distribution and use; and focusing on poverty eradication as a
prerequisite for sustainable development.
The principles of sustainable development have been implicit
in many UN conferences, including: the Second UN Conference on Human Settlements
(Istanbul, 1996); the Special Session of the General Assembly on Small Island
Developing States (New York, 1999); the Millennium Summit (New York, 2000) and
its Millennium Development Goals (Goal 7 seeks to “Ensure Environmental
Sustainability”); and the 2005 World Summit.
In 1988, UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) came together to
create the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has become
the pre-eminent global source for scientific information relating to climate
change. The main international instrument on this subject, the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992. And its
Kyoto Protocol, which sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and
the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, was adopted in
In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development was held
in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September 2002, to take stock
of achievements, challenges and new issues arising since the 1992 Earth Summit.
It was an “implementation” Summit, designed to turn the goals, promises and
commitments of Agenda 21 into concrete, tangible actions.
Member states agreed to the Johannesburg Declaration on
Sustainable Development and a Plan of Implementation detailing the priorities
for action. The Division for Sustainable Development of the UN Department of
Economic and Social Affairs – which provides the secretariat for the Commission
on Sustainable Development, and was already engaging in monitoring
implementation of Agenda 21 and the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action for the
Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States – began doing the same
with regard to the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.
In January 2005, the international community met at Mauritius
to conduct a 10-year United Nations review of the Barbados Programme, approving
a wide-ranging set of specific recommendations for its further implementation.
The Mauritius Strategy addresses such issues as climate change and rising sea
levels; natural and environmental disasters; management of wastes; coastal,
marine, freshwater, land, energy, tourism and biodiversity resources;
transportation and communication; science and technology; globalization and
trade liberalization; sustainable production and consumption, capacity
development, and education for sustainable development; health; culture;
knowledge management and information for decision-making.
At the Earth Summit, it was agreed that most financing for
Agenda 21 would come from within each country’s public and private sectors.
However, new and additional external funds were deemed necessary to support
developing countries’ efforts to implement sustainable development practices and
protect the global environment.
Addressing this need, the Global Environment Facility (GEF)
was established in 1991 to help developing countries fund projects that protect
the global environment and promote sustainable livelihoods in local communities.
It has provided $8.8 billion in grants and generated over $38.7 billion in
cofinancing from recipient governments, international development agencies,
private industry and NGOs, to support more than 2,400 projects in more than 165
developing countries and economies in transition. – It has also made more than
10,000 small grants directly to nongovernmental and community organizations.
GEF projects — principally carried out by UNDP, UNEP and the
World Bank — conserve and make sustainable use of biological diversity, address
global climate change, reverse the degradation of international waters, phase
out substances that deplete the ozone layer, combat land degradation and
drought, and reduce and eliminate the production and use of certain persistent
To help advance the cause of sustainable development in a
continuous fashion, the General Assembly also declared the period 2005-2014 as
the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. The Decade,
for which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO) is the lead agency, aims to help people to develop the attitudes,
skills and knowledge to make informed decisions for the benefit of themselves
and others, now and in the future, and to act upon those decisions.
The list of UN bodies active in support of the environment
and sustainable development includes the World Bank, the United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the
UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the UN Human Settlements Programme
(UN-HABITAT), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The UN Global Compact engages the international business
community in the observance of environmental principles, and the Global
Environment Facility (GEF), a World Bank-UNDP-UNEP initiative, helps to fund it
In view of the crucial importance of the environmental perspective and the
principle of sustainability, the General Assembly has declared a number of
observances to catalyze positive action worldwide.
Among those currently in effect are the United Nations Decade
of Education for Sustainable Development (2015-2014), and the International
Decade for Action, “Water for Life”, which began on 22 March 2005. In addition,
the world community will observe the International Year of Natural Fibres in
2009, the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010, and the International Year
of Forests in 2011.
Annual environment-related observances declared by the
Assembly also include World Water Day (22 March), the International Day for
Biological Diversity (22 May), World Environment Day (5 June), World Day to
Combat Desertification and Drought (17 June), International Day for the
Preservation of the Ozone Layer (16 September), International Day for Preventing
the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict (6 November), and
International Mountain Day (11 December).
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