Sustainable economic development:1992 Earth summit revisited

Advances in technology and expansion in global trade are bringing the world closer and closer together in amazing ways, producing a global society and market as a result.

Less noticeable among the trends that are aiding global integration is the intensity of industrialisation and its impact on the world’s environment.

With a few exceptions, only in the last three decades has the global environment become a major subject of international negotiations. Interest in the environment has grown rapidly since the first Earth Day was held by environmental activists in the 1970s.

The energy crisis at that time seemed to underline the issue in the industrialised regions.


Oil spillage, urban air pollution, pesticide residue and nuclear power plants disasters elevated the environment on the international agenda. The first UN Conference on the international environment took place in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972.

It adopted general principles that one state`s actions should not cause environmental damage to another, raised awareness about international dimensions of environmental damage in countries.

A second conference was held, with less publicity, in Nairobi, Kenya (currently hosting the headquarters of the UN Environmental Programme) in 1982. The larger and more ambitious 1992 Earth Summit was the third conference.

The fourth took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002. At the 1992 Earth Summit, the major theme was – Sustainable Economic Development.

It referred to economic growth that does not deplete resources and destroy ecosystems so quickly that the basis of economic growth is itself undermined.


Presently, growth in population, industry, energy use, and the extraction of natural resources on the planet have been exponential. This growth will certainly leave us with certain possibilities.

One possibility is that technology may allow unabated economic growth, but will shift the basis of this growth away from the ever-increasing use of harmful energy resources that impact negatively on the natural environment.

Goods and services would continue to multiply raising global standard of living, with better efficiency to reduce the strain on the environment, propelled by modern technologies.

Another possibility is the collapse of populations and living standards in the world as excessive growth leads to ecological disaster. Pessimists worry that the present course of growth will overshoot the carrying capacity of the planetary ecosystem and cause it to breakdown, because of long term environmental problems, such as, species depletion and global warming.

By the time such problems produce severe long-term effect, it would be too late to correct them.

Preserving the health of the world`s atmosphere is a benefit that affects people throughout the world without regard for their own country`s contribution to the problem or its solution.

Two problems of the atmosphere is now a major international issue. These are global warming and depletion of the ozone layer.

The negative effect of global warming is glaring, evidenced by constant flooding and the washing away of coastal communities along the sea.

We are also witnessing changes in weather patterns resulting in droughts in other parts of the world, and the destruction of the natural ecosystems.

The Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil unites the world to set a goal to limit greenhouse emissions, the culprit for global warming.

Ozone layer

The second major atmospheric problem being negotiated by the world`s governments is the depletion of the ozone layer. Measurements of CFCs, the gas that destroys the ozone layer, in recent times show a remarkable reduction in its concentration in the atmosphere.

Thanks to the 1987 Montreal Protocol on CFCs, which is regarded as the most important success, yet achieved, in international negotiations to preserve the global environment.

This protocol and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that follows the Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit is another demonstration of how countries of the world can agree to take action on urgent environmental threats.

Happy belated World Ozone Day which fell on September 16, 2022.

The writer is with the Institute of Current Affairs and Diplomacy (ICAD).

E-mail: Lawmat2014@gmail.com.

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