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Agenda 21

Agenda 21 is an action programme. It was partially based on a series of specialized contributions from governments and international bodies, including Caring for the Earth: a Strategy for Sustainable Living (IUCN, UNEP and WWF 1991). Agenda 21 is now the most significant and influential non-binding instrument in the environmental field, serving as the blueprint for environmental management in most regions of the world (see box).

Agenda 21
  • Agenda 21 lays a solid foundation for the promotion of sustainable development in terms of social, economic and environmental progress. Agenda 21 has 40 chapters, and its recommendations are divided into four main areas:
  • Social and economic issues such as international cooperation to accelerate sustainable development, combating poverty, changing consumption patterns, demographic dynamics and sustainability, and protecting and promoting human health.
  • Conservation and management of resources for development, such as protection of the atmosphere, combating deforestation, combating desertification and drought, promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development, conservation of biological diversity, protection of freshwater resources and the oceans, and the sound management of toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes.
  • Strengthening the role of major groups, including women, children and youth, indigenous people and their communities, NGOs, local authorities' initiatives in support of Agenda 21, workers and their trade unions, business and industry, the scientific and technological community, and farmers.
  • Means of implementation, including financial resources and mechanisms, transfer of environmentally sound technology, promoting education, public awareness and training, international institutional arrangements, international legal instruments and mechanisms, and information for decision-making.

The cost of implementing Agenda 21 in developing countries was estimated by the Earth Summit secretariat to be about US$625 billion a year, with the developing countries meeting 80 per cent, or US$500 billion, of it. Developed countries were expected to foot the remaining 20 per cent, or about US$125 billion annually, by meeting their long-established official development assistance (ODA) target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP).

Although UNCED was concerned with global approaches, an important outcome was the adoption of many national and regional Agenda 21 programmes for sustainable development. In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, for example, the member states adopted the SADC Policy and Strategy for Environment and Sustainable Development in 1996. The European Union adopted the 5th Environmental Action Plan Towards Sustainability (EU 1993).