United Nations Conference on Environment and Development Rio de Janeiro

The years between 1972 and 1992 witnessed both a new institutional framework for enhancing NGO activities on global issues and critical changes in the global political environment that ultimately impacted the environmental discourse in several ways. The emergence of the institutional framework was the result of several phenomena. First, there was a growing awareness of further challenges related to environmental issues. Citizens of nations around the world were increasingly expressing interest and concern about the environment. Much of this interest began to surface in political discourse as elected and administrative officials framed agendas related to the environment that responded to citizens' interests, largely as articulated via citizen-driven nongovernmental institutions. The interests also began to surface in legal arenas as citizens in many nations, again often through the mechanisms of nongovernmental institutions, began to hold business and government accountable for environmental activity. Finally, the interests began to surface in economic arenas, as more and more consumers began to place expectations on business regarding the interaction between their activities and environmental needs.

Second, the world had experienced the end of the Cold War era discord and was moving to a post-Cold War period. With the shift, a number of new expectations of government roles, vis-a-vis the deliverance of societal issues, rose. In many cases, this opened up awareness to many of the environmental challenges that had impacted many of the nations of Central and Eastern Europe (former Soviet Bloc nations) during the Cold War era and several of the environmental realities that impacted them. Pollution was a by-product of much of the rapid industrialization that had taken place in many of the nations of Central and Eastern Europe during the era. Citizens of many of these nations were both becoming increasingly aware of environmental conditions that impacted their lives as a result of Eastern-bloc industrialization, and of citizen-driven strategies for addressing such challenges.

Finally, NGOs had increased in scope, size, and influence. The emergence of more organizations, often due to issues that Salamon, Matthews, and others observed, simply left more organizations for activity related to nongovernmental issues. More organizations and a greater preponderance of NGO-grounded strategies for addressing community challenges increased in value.

In 1989, largely as a result of increasing awareness and activity on issues pertaining to the environment, the UN General Assembly decided that in 1992, it would convene the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. One of the overriding goals of the conference was to bring some unity to the various agendas of organizations that had surfaced in the activities of various nations since the Stockholm conference. There were a number of governmental, nongovernmental, and business-focused organizations that had been involved in the environmental discourse, and each of them brought a set of contributions to the discussion. There were, importantly, numerous issues surfacing between Northern and Southern nations that also had an impact on the shape of environmental discourse. Many of the nations from the global South that participated felt they needed to articulate the linkages between environ-mentalism and their economic development needs. Some participants expressed the view if matters of the environment were to be addressed effectively, matters of economic development would also have to be addressed, particularly as the link between environmental degradation and poverty were becoming increasingly recognized.

Following the example set by the preparatory process for the Stockholm meeting, the preliminary work of the UN Conference on the Environment and Development was done through the Preparatory Committee, which was held as an organizational meeting in March 1990 and in four subsequent sessions from August 1990 to April 1992. The most important of these was the final preparatory committee meeting, held in New York. It was during this session that the bulk of agreement was reached on the majority of the text for Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration.

The actual UN Conference on Environment and Development was held from June 3-14, 1992 in Rio. In attendance were more than 150 nations, 1,400 NGOs and 8,000 journalists. Of the NGOs that participated, one third were from the lesser industrialized nations, whereas in comparison only 10% of the NGOs in attendance at Stockholm were from these nations. The Rio conference was the first time that NGOs were able to come together on a single platform, and this allowed the UN and the conference officials to bring out frameworks and agendas for sustained cooperation. The NGOs expressed their ideas and enthusiasm to be involved in many activities of the UN.

Rio, however, also provided a forum in which division between NGOs in the global South were able to surface vis-a-vis those in the global North. In particular, Southern NGO suspicion of their governments surfaced and appeared troublesome, in comparison to relations between NGOs in the North vis-a-vis their governments, with whom they often had a much longer relationship.

Again, as was the case in Stockholm, NGO representatives had an alternate forum through which they were able to participate in activities. Specifically, they were able to engage in a Global Forum, which occurred concurrently with the Earth Summit. The Global Forum provided an opportunity for NGOs to incorporate their various perspectives and agendas into a collaborative framework. It also provided an opportunity and an open forum for many organizations that might have previously been under such financial or political constraints within their own nations that they had felt the development and implementation of their agendas had been seriously hampered. Finally, it established a set of follow-up measures for NGOs to better coordinate their activities both within their countries and between nations, as well as to enhance the growth and development of an international agenda.

The most important outcomes of the Rio conference were Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration. Both had significant implications for NGOs. Agenda 21 was a program of action that outlined various strategies for building the framework for engaging various segments of societies into dialogue and action on the environment. Three of the document's sections were particularly relevant for the activities of NGOs. First, Chapter 27 specifically outlined roles of NGOs as vital partners for sustainable development. Nongovernmental organizations were recognized as partners in enabling sustainable democratic processes and as vital actors in helping to ensure the activity of agencies engaged in grassroots movements. Chapter 27 also outlined mechanisms for the larger UN system to enhance the processes by which NGOs could contribute to policy design, development, and implementation [6,7].

Chapter 28 of Agenda 21 recognized the growing influence of local authorities and framed an agenda for their involvement in consultation processes. Specifically, it framed an argument for increasing involvement by these organizations throughout the 1990s, with a goal of local authorities having extensive consultation processes with both members of local populations and representative government agencies working with local populations [8].

Finally, Chapter 38 of Agenda 21 explored in detail the roles of various institutional arrangements. It created the Sustainable Development Commission, with responsibility to carry out the objectives that surfaced in the Rio Summit. The Commission was to be the main agency tasked with monitoring the implementation of Agenda 21. Most importantly from the perspective of NGOs, it was the agency that would identify and develop further mechanisms for engaging NGOs in activities that followed Rio [8].

Another outcome of the Rio conference was the Rio Declaration, which established a set of principles on environmental and economic action. This declaration laid the groundwork for involving communities and their representatives in decision-making processes on environmental issues. Relevant to NGOs was Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which acknowledged the role of citizen engagement in activity related to the environment. Principle 10 called for greater access to information pertaining to the environment. In addition, of relevance for NGOs was Principle 22, which called for the engagement of indigenous groups in decision making vis-a-vis the environment and established a framework for the agenda setting related to environmental issues [9].

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