1992: UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro

In 1992, 172 nations met in Rio de Janeiro at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), to seek solutions to issues such as poverty, the growing gap between industrialized and developing countries, and growing environmental, economic and social problems. The objective was to set a course for sustainable development around the world. Environmental conservation and social and economic development were all accorded equal weight.

The participating countries signed three agreements, not binding in international law (Agenda 21, Rio Declaration, Statement of Forest Principles) and two legally binding conventions (Framework Convention on Climate Change, Convention on Biological Diversity).

Agenda 21 is a global action plan for the 21st Century. It is divided into four sections: Social and economic dimension, Conservation and management of resources for development, Strengthening the role of major groups and Means of implementation.

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development defines the rights and obligations of nations in 27 principles, recognizes the precautionary and «polluter pays» principles as guiding tenets, and describes the combating of poverty, an appropriate population policy, a reduction of non-sustainable types of consumption and production and the comprehensive informing and involvement of citizens in decision-making processes as crucial to sustainable development.

The Statement of Forest Principles sets out guiding principles for the management, conservation and sustainable use of forests.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is aimed at stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions at a level which does not cause serious damage to the global environment. Specific and legally binding emission reductions for the six main greenhouse gases were not laid down until the Kyoto Protocol, however. The Climate Convention came into force in Switzerland on 21 March 1994, and the Kyoto Protocol was ratified in 2003.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity is intended to ensure that biodiversity is not jeopardized further in the long term. The Biodiversity Convention, as it is also known, came into force in Switzerland on 19 February 1995.

In addition to the declarations and conventions listed here, the first Earth Summit resulted in the establishment of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to ensure effective follow-up of the Earth Summit.