In June 1992, the United Nations organised an international conference, called the Earth Summit, in Rio de janeiro, Brazil. This was the largest world meeting ever held until then. and brought Heads of State and government officials together. Also present at the conference were a large number of international Organisatlons and non government organisations (NGOs) from around the world.
The Earth Summit resulted in a global plan of action called ‘Agenda 21’. (Rio Declaration on Environment and Development) It represents the agreement reached by 178 States on how human beings can safeguard their future. Agenda 21 is based on co-operation between developed and developing countries. It aims at preserving the environment while ensuring a healthy economy for all countries.
Agenda 21 addresses the critical issues we face as a global community: continuing damage to the environment, the problem of poverty, hunger and ill health, increasing world population and illiteracy. Agenda 21 identifies these major challenges and proposes realistic solutions towards sustainable development. It seeks to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Governments, businesses. non-governmental and other organisations around the world pledged in the Earth Summit to put the ideas from Agenda 21 to work. This task will require not only leadership and binding from governments and businesses, but also the active participation of every citizen. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without everyone working together.
Agenda 21-is laid out in a 700-page document, divided into tour parts and forty chapters. Each chapter begins with a preamble that identifies a major objective that needs attention. The following summary of Agenda 21 identifies some of these objectives.

1. Linking society, economy and nature

Preamble to Agenda 21: No nation can secure its future alone, but all countries can assure themselves of a safer more prosperous future by dealing with environment and development issues TOGETHER in global partnership.

The Role of TRADE: Trade and environment should be mutually supportive since international economic relations and the economic policies of every country have great relevance to sustainable development.

Combating POVERTY : Poverty is caused by illiteracy, inadequate medical care, unemployment and population pressures. The poor need access to basic education and health care, safe water and sanitation and to resources, especially land.
Changing CONSUMPTION PAYTERNS: New concepts of wealth and prosperity which are more in harmony with the Earth’s carrying capacity need to be developed particularly in the industrialised countries. Individuals need to accept that they have choices when making decisions about their own consumption patterns.
POPULATION Dynamics: The world’s population is expected to exceed 8 billion by the year 2020 Countries need to know their national population carrying capacity and deal with the combination of population growth,. Health of the ecosystem, technologies and access to resources.
Protecting and Promoting HEALTH: Every year in the developing world, nearly 15 million children under 15 die from infection and malnutrition. Human health depends on a healthy environment, clean water supply, sanitary waste disposal, adequate shelter arid healthy food. The overall goal is health for all by the year 2000.
Sustainable Human Settlements: By the year 2000 half the world’s population will be living in cities. Governments should reduce migration to the big cities by improving rural living and see that the homeless get access to land, credit and low-cost building materials.
MAKING DECISIONS for Sustainable Development

There is a tendency to treat the environment as a ‘free good’ and to pass the cost of environmental damage to other parts of society, other countries or future generations. Nations and corporate enterprises should integrate environmental protection and restoration costs their decision-making.

2.    How can we protect our resources?

Protecting the ATMOSPHERE: Our atmosphere is under increasing pressure from greenhouse gases that threaten to change the climates and chemicals that reduce the ozone layer. Greater energy efficiency out of existing power stations is needed as well as developing new, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind. hydro, ocean and human power, while reducing reliance on non-renewable sources of energy such as fossil fuels.

Combating DEFORESTATION: There is a need for concerted international research and conservation efforts to control the harvesting of forests by promoting indigenous technologies and agro forestry and expanding the shrunken world-forest cover.

Combating DESERTIFICATION: Desertification and ought result in poverty and starvation, which brings out more soil degradation. One of the major tools to ht the spread of deserts is the planting of trees and her plants that retain water and maintain soil quality.
MOUNTAIN Development: About 10% of the Earth’s population lives in mountain areas, while about 40% occupies watershed areas below. Measures are needed protect mountain ecosystems from erosion, landslides and the rapid loss of habitat, animals and plant life.

AGRICULTURE and Rural Development: The world’s long-term ability to meet the growing demand for food and other agricultural products is uncertain. The priority must be to maintain and improve the capacity of agricultural lands with new technologies to support an expanding population.
Conservation of BIODIVERSITY : The use of biological resources to feed and clothe us, to provide us with housing and medicines accelerates the loss of bio-diversity. Urgent and decisive action is needed to conserve and maintain genes, species and ecosystems.
Protection of the OCEANS: Oceans are under increasing stress from pollution, over-fishing and general degradation. Nations must control and reduce the pollution of the marine environment and maintain its life support capacity.
Protecting and Managing WATER: In the developing world, one person .in three lacks safe drinking water and sanitation — basic requirements for health and dignity. A clean up of the most obvious sources of pollution is needed in order to have safe water and sanitation for all by the year 2025.
Management of TOXIC CHEMICALS: There are presently no less than 100,000 commercial man-made chemicals. Countries need to develop and share expertise for a sound management of toxic chemicals and prevent illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products.
SOLID WASTE and SEWAGE: Growing quantities of garbage and sewage from our cities pose threats to our health and environment. An urban waste prevention approach needs to be implemented so that by 2010. all countries should have national plans for waste management.
RADIOACTIVE WASTE: The use of radioactive substances is glowing in nuclear power production of electricity, medicine, research and industry and so is the waste. It is important to ensure training and financial support to developing countries that have nuclear programs to ensure safe and responsible management.


  • agro forestry – the cultivation and conservation of forests
  • biodiversity – the variety of plant and animal life
  • consumption – process of using up resources
  • corporate enterprises – business companies and corporations
  • desertification – the expansion of desert area due to soil erosion
  • ecosystem – a system of organisms in interaction with their environment
  • greenhouse gases – gases that contribute to global warming by trapping the sun’s heat in the lower atmosphere
  • habitat – the natural home of an organism or life-form
  • non-renewable energy sources – sources of energy that can only be used once e.g. coat or oil
  • ozone layer – a layer in the earth’s atmosphere made of ozone gas that absorbs the sun’s ultraviolet radiation
  • radioactive substances – substances used for producing nuclear power that emit radiation
  • renewable energy sources – sources of energy that can be recycled or used continuously e.g. solar or wind power
  • toxic – poisonous

3. Who can make a difference?

WOMEN: Governments are urged to give girls equal access to education, to make health-care systems responsive to women’s needs, and to bring women into full participation in social, cultural and public life.
CHILDREN and YOUTH: Children and youth make up nearly one-third of the world population. Governments are urged to combat abuse of the rights of youth, especially females in certain cultures, and to ensure that all children have access to education.
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS: Non governmental organisations (NGOs) form a network in both developed and developing countries and play a vital role in the shaping and implementation of participatory democracy which is integral to the implementation of sustainable development.
BUSINESS and INDUSTRY : Responsible behaviour in the private sector is a prerequisite to achieving sustainable development. Entrepreneurship can play a major role in improving the efficiency of resource use, minirnising wastes and protecting human health and environmental quality.
SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY : Scientists and technologists (engineers, architects. industrial designers, urban planners, and other professionals) have special responsibilities to search for knowledge and to help protect the biosphere.
FARMERS: Farmers are directly responsible for one third of the land surface of the earth. They require economic and technical assistance that will encourage them to implement self-sufficient, low-input and low- energy agricultural practices. Women, who do much of the world’s farming, should have access to tenure and the use of land, to credits and technologies.

4. Where do we start?

FINANCIAL RESOURCES: Developing nations need free trade and access to markets in order to achieve sustainable economic growth. Special attention should be given to nations whose economies are in transition.
Transfer of TECHNOLOGY : Scientific knowledge ca help prevent shortages of energy, water an non renewable resources. Developing countries should access environmentally-sound technology and know- how through a collaborative international network of laboratories.

SCIENCE for Sustainable Development: In the face of threats of irreversible environmental damage, improved knowledge of the earth’s systems is crucial as well as the integration of the natural, social and engineering sciences.

EDUCATION and PUBLIC AWARENESS: Education gives people the environmental and ethical awareness values and attitudes, skills and behaviour needed for sustainable development. Because sustainable development must ultimately involve everyone, access to education must be increased for all children and adult- illiteracy must he reduced.
CREATING CAPACITY FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: All countries share the need to strengthen national capabilities. Developing countries especially need to build their own capacity to implement Agenda 21 in co-operation with UN organisations, developed countries and with each other (SEE THE CONCEPT OF HDF).
INTERNATIONAL LAW AND MECHANISMS: It is essential that all countries and all sectors within countries, participate in the negotiation of international agreements that create effective international standards for environmental protection.


  • biosphere – that part of the earths surface and atmosphere :inhabited by living organisms
  • entrepreneurship – actions or undertakings that involve risk or initiative
  • credit – permission to obtain goods or services before payment
  • irreversible – unchangeable
  • participatory democracy – form of government in which all the people participate
  • prerequisite – required a prior condition
  • private sector– that part of a country’s economy which is not under state control
  • tenure – rights to holding property

Review questions and activities

Reflecting on the text

  • What are some factors in the twenty-first century that are likely to effect the environment and the use of natural resources?
  • What are some of the global problems that have arisen as a result of rapid economic growth?
  • What debate has taken place in recent years on the dilemma between development and conservation?
  • What is meant by ‘sustainable development’?
  • What does the ethics of Islam teach us about our relation to the created world?
  • How has the United Nation tried to promote the idea of sustainable development?
  • What are some major objectives identified in Agenda 21?


Take part in a class debate based on the topic ‘Development or Conservation?’ Examine with your class some of the major points for and against each approach.
Make a poster that reflects the following theme: ‘Development means meeting the needs of today’s generations without harming the ability of future generations to meet their needs’. Another theme that you can consider is ‘Think globally, act locally’.
Identify additional references in the Quran, the hadis and the guidance of the Imams that relate to the responsibilities of human beings as trustees of God,
Select one of the objectives identified in Agenda 21. Develop a plan that shows how your local community can contribute towards achieving this objective at the local level.


Review the AKDN programmes and projects that you have studied in this module. Which objectives of Agenda 21 is addressed by the AKDN Agencies?


‘The planet earth has enough resources to meet the needs of all the people who live on it.’ To what extent do you agree or disagree with this view? Explain your reasons for your view.


Examine critically the concept of sustainable development. Discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of this approach.


In the twenty-first century, It Is becoming Increasingly Important to find approaches that achieve sustainable development without damaging the life-support system of the earth.


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