CIESIN Thematic Guides

United Nations Conference on Environment and Development

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was held from June 3 through June 14, 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conference was the culmination of two years of negotiations by the Preparatory Committees (PrepComs). Five major agreements on global environmental issues were signed. Two of these, The Framework Convention on Climate Change and The Convention on Biological Diversity, were formal treaties whose provisions are binding on the parties. The other three UNCED agreements were non-binding statements on the relationship between sustainable environmental practices and the pursuit of social and socioeconomic development. Agenda 21 is a wide-ranging assessment of social and economic sectors with goals for improving environmental and developmental impact of each. The Rio Declaration summarizes consensus principles of sustainable development, and the Statement on Forest Principles pledges parties to more sustainable use of forest resources.

The Academic Council for the United Nations System (ACUNS) produced a "Guide to UNCED and its Documentation," which describes the negotiating process for the major agreements and highlights some of the most important documents produced during negotiations (Halpern 1993). In "Appraising the Earth Summit," Haas, Levy, and Parson (1992) evaluate UNCED as part of the broader policy process, in which the principle of sustainable development has become a central concept.

A collection of UNCED documents is available here, including those from the four PrepComs (1, 2, 3, 4); speeches by the secretary general of UNCED, Maurice Strong; versions of the major UNCED documents; and some of the national reports submitted by more than 100 countries as part of the preparatory process. UNCED took place on the 20th anniversary of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. That meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, was the first contemporary, global diplomatic gathering to address human activities in relationship to the environment. The Human Environment Conference produced a set of principles in the Stockholm Declaration and led to the founding of the United Nations Environment Programme. The report of the conference includes the Stockholm Declaration, recommendations for action, an action plan, a set of resolutions on follow-up to the conference, and a list of acronyms used .