What Went Before: The 1992 Rio Earth Summit

Two decades ago at the culmination of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, 152 world leaders signed a document committing to take on a single mission.

The action plan came to be known as Agenda 21 that set the world’s gears to pursue the kind of economic and social development that is not adverse to the environment.

This aspiration not only influenced state policies and turns of the economy, but stirred lifestyle changes among individuals as well. The conference created a mindset to care for the earth’s resources and to be concerned about the social impact of money-driven progress, while inspiring countless personal and corporate initiatives besides government efforts.

Issues such as alternative energy, water scarcity, poverty, climate change and environmental degradation popularized by the historic convention also became staple topics in post-Earth Summit global fora. Until today, the legacy of the 1992 Earth Summit is still very much felt and fueled by hopes for the sustainable growth of every corner of the world.

The Philippine experience

The Philippines under the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos did not delay on acting on lessons from the Summit. Within three months, the government already created the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), a special body tasked to track homegrown initiatives on sustainable development and make the global Agenda 21 the Philippines’ own.

PCSD thus came up with the Philippine Agenda 21 or PA21, “the country’s highest framework for development,” according to the Center for Alternative Development Initiatives. This means the document’s scope serves as a blueprint wide enough to cover the different aspects of sustainable growth.

As a consequence, existing policies and plans of government agencies had to be reviewed and made consistent with Agenda 21. Principles of sustainable development were rightly be merged with governance and continue to inspire culture within government and non-government organizations.

The country, however, would not compromise on the essentials. Having committed to the global agenda, PA21 recognizes that development with its three pillars (economy, society and environment) have people and human potential at its core.

This emphasis on human development made the Philippine approach ecologically-balanced and people-centered, reinforced by the values of peace, social justice, respect for gender, culture, morals and spirituality, participatory democracy, individual freedoms, and holistic science.

From these principles, initiatives on various areas for growth sprung forth. Major reforms to combat poverty were made to allow access to livelihood and credit programs, socialized housing, improved social services and worker protection among others.

PA21 also stressed the value of a healthy population in quantity and quality. This, after all, covers the basic needs of men such as nutrition, health, and shelter. Disaster management is also a notable program implemented in the past years.

Agencies in the power sector looked into the possibilities of alternative energies, promoting a more widespread and commercial use of substitutes for conventional fuels.

PCSD also sought to make socio-economic processes more efficient and integrated with environmental goals. This has resulted in a stable and resilient economy, most readily observed from the country’s relative immunity to the economic crises in the West.

Various natural resources including the atmosphere and ecosystems have been given due protection and regard, as this is the area Agenda 21 is most loud about. This can be seen in the zeroing in of policies to target critical resources such as forests, lowlands, oceans and mines.

Plural people, singular path

All plans and measures could only be turned into fruition if they are acted on by the people that make up a nation. Having mobilized the different branches of government, the council recognized the efficiency and effectiveness of giving birth to aligned efforts from within communities and local state units.

PA 21 has also reached out to and made alliances with other key sectors: women, children and youth, indigenous tribes, not-for-profit groups, unions, businesses, industries and the scientific community.

The past 20 years have been marked by expressions of commitment to PA 21, sweetened by successes and challenged by shortcomings. But one comes to realize that sustainable development takes time to mature, that it is even the task of a lifetime.

After all, the future spans far. And the Rio conferences are a sign that the world never tires of creating building the best kind of future possible.

PCSD Partners