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U.S. Adherence to Its Agenda 21 Commitments: A Five-Year Review

October 1997

Citation: ELR 10504

Author: John Dernbach and the Widener University School of Law Seminar on Law and Sustainability

In June 1992, delegates from nearly every nation in the world, including 107 heads of state or government, participated in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), or Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro. Their most important work was Agenda 21, a comprehensive plan of action for sustainable development.1 The United States, led by President George Bush, endorsed Agenda 21. Agenda 21 was premised on the simple and appealing idea that the real work of the conference would occur afterwards, in a variety of contexts, all over the world. The ultimate success or failure of UNCED, in other words, depends on whether the problems that led to the conference are actually addressed.

Five years later, in June 1997, the United Nations General Assembly met in New York to assess the progress that nations have made in carrying out their Agenda 21 commitments.2 The Rio-plus-five review produced critical reflection and evaluation of how well individual countries have done, and what they should be doing next. Despite some positive actions since UNCED, the General Assembly concluded that "overall trends for sustainable development are worse today than they were in 1992."3 The General Assembly also reaffirmed Agenda 21 as the global blueprint for sustainable development. In fact, the only document that emerged from the meeting was a Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21.4 The General Assembly scheduled the next comprehensive review of progress implementing Agenda 21 for five years hence, in 2002.5

John Dernbach is an Associate Professor at Widener University Law School. The students participating in the Seminar on Law and Sustainability were Nicholas Ackerman, Laura Ax, Laurie Bice, Susan Bucknum, Michael Burger, Bill Davis, Eric Failing, Bart Holmes, Randall Hurst, Nancy Kippenhan, Denise Miller-Tshudy, Shilpa Patel, Dianna Reed, Adam Schellhase, Paul Stahlnecker, Diane Tomer, and Ari Weitzman. The seminar, which was led by Professor Dernbach, was held in the spring semester of 1997. Andrew Young, Class of 1998, helped prepare the footnotes for this Dialogue.

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