World Summit on Sustainable Development also known as Johannesburg summit (WSSD, 2002) was convened to establish a plan of implementation that would accelerate & strengthen the enforcement of the principles approved in Rio De Janeiro. The decade that separates the two conferences confirmed the diagnosis reached in 1992 & the difficulty of implementing the Rio Conferences’ recommendations. Johannesburg revealed the increasingly closed relations between the global trade, financial & environmental agendas. The fact that the summit took place months after the Doha (IV World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference) & Monterrey (United Nations International Conference on financing for development). 

World Summit on Sustainable Development
World Summit on Sustainable Development

Conferences enabled this perception & allowed the three conferences to be viewed as important stages in the strengthening of corporation between states. On the 30th anniversary of Stockholm Conference & the 10th anniversary of Rio Summit, The UN organized the World Summit on Sustainable development from 26th August to 4th September 2002 in Johannesburg. It is also called Rio+10 or Earth Summit II. The Rio Summit proved a failure due to the role of developed countries such as the USA in their reluctance to corporate in key issues such as climate change.

Salient Features  of World Summit on Sustainable Development

The Johannesburg declaration was the core conclusion of the Summit. It consisted of the general statements stating reaffirmation of agreements of Rio Declaration. The key emphasis of the conference was on

  • International Corporation
  • Decreasing World Poverty
  • Special Attention for Developing Countries
  • Empowering Women
  • Maintaining Biodiversity
  • Major Outcomes of WSSD

The Goals Finalized in World Summit on Sustainable Development Were:

Water & Sanitation

Decreasing the number of people lacking clean water & basic sanitation to half by 2015. Governments agreed to halve the number of people lacking clean drinking water & basic sanitation by 2015.


More emphasis on “Green Sources of Energy”. Governments agreed in principle to take action to help the poor gain access to affordable energy. Yet there were no specific targets on things like boosting renewable & “Green” Sources such as solar or wind power, just wording to ” Substantially increase ” the global share of renewable energy. Various oil-producing & exporting countries (OPEC) Nations & The United States opposed targets while Europe & Various Environmental & Development Organizations wanted them. Definition of Renewables also caused a stir because some wanted Nuclear & Hydroelectric power to be included in this definition while others did not. Environmental Administrations certainly did not like the consequence.

Global Warming

Global Warming agreement where states agreed to ratify Kyoto Protocol especially Russia. The agreement referred to the need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, through various organizations & nations were hoping for more concrete plans. Russia & some other nations announced they would ratify the Kyoto Protocol. This was seen as positive because earlier some has employed that they might not. Had they not, with the United States already refusing the protocol, Kyoto might have ruled for downfall.

 Biodiversity & Natural Resources

Nations agreed that by 2010, the rate at which extinction of rare plants & animals are occurring should be cut. There was a commitment to restore fisheries to their maximum sustainable yields by 2015, to establish a representative network of marine protected areas by 2012, to improve developing countries access to environmentally sound substitutes to Ozone-depleting chemicals by 2010. While these were on the positive side, the world wildlife fund, one of the world’s leading conservation organizations felt the Summit did not do enough.

Trade/Global Economic Related Issues

This was a spikey subject for some because it was argued that a WSSD was perceived mainly as a place to iron out World Trade Organization matters, & not really tackle sustainability. Some WTO wordage changed specified that the environment should not be secondary to trade which is a positive development. There was no new commitment or timetable to the EU & US farm Subsidies or the crises in the Commodity prices. reports that Several African Representatives are known to be annoyed at the way that the WTO Doha’s agreement has dominated much of the discussion- & particularly at attempts to give the WTO resolutions primacy over the WSSDs on agreed positions. Africans also guilt rich countries for the disappointment to make progress on the ending of agrarian subsidies to their own manufacturers, seen as restricting emerging countries’ access to markets.


Attempts to link women’s rights & health services to human rights were opposed by some nations & religious groups. There was agreement that recognizes that access to health care be consistent with human rights & ” Cultural & Religious Values”. Many groups disparaged the United States, the Vatican & some developed states that tried to face this stronger linkage due to issues around women’s rights, abortion problems, etc.

Corporate Accountability

There was an acknowledgment that communal liability must be improved. Environment News Amenity remarked that the United States tried to Circumvent efforts to grow new, binding international rules on environmentally irresponsible corporate behavior’ & wanted it to apply only to existing international agreements. However, country representatives in the end excluded this & Conference Delegates disallowed the United States from escaping a commitment to corporate accountability for environmental crimes.

Critical Overview of WSSD

Despite the positive effects in the aftermath & the results of UNCED, governments have not been implementing the plans for action the UNCED & other conferences have produced. In this regard, the report assessing the implementation status of Agenda 21 identified some serious deficiencies; fragmented approach to sustainable development; lack of progress in addressing sustainable patterns of consumption & production; inadequate attention of core issues; coherence policies on finance, trade, investment, technology & SD; insufficient financial resources; & absence of a robust mechanism for technology transfer.

The Johannesburg Summit delivered three outcomes: A political declaration, the Johannesburg plan of implementation & the establishment of numerous partnerships, initiatives (most importantly so-called type II partnerships). The Johannesburg Declaration confirms the commitments from Stockholm 1972, & Rio 1992, as well as of some of the millennium development goals. Another important deliverable-The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI)-can be regarded as a program of action to guide government activities negotiated & agreed between government covering key commitments & targets in the area of sustainable consumption & production, water & sanitation, & energy. In addition, the Johannesburg Summit 2002 produced so-called Type II partnerships (voluntary transnational multi-stakeholder agreements between government & non-state actors) allowing civil society to contribute to the implementation of sustainable development.

Although the Johannesburg Declaration refers to strategic approaches on how to deliver the Johannesburg Plan of Declaration, it had no specific mandate to contribute to the development of international environmental law, nor even to further elaborate general principles of non-binding nature to guide the conduct of states concerning SD. Negotiations on the document were rather short due to time constraints &, especially the part on implementation concerning finance & trade was highly controversial with an agreement of about 11 & 15 % respectively.

The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI)- a guide for further implementation of agenda 21 – comprises measures of implementation & specific measurable targets & associated time frame, which, however, are in most cases reiterated from the Millennium Development Goals agreed at the Millennium Summit 2000 & other agreements nevertheless by doing so the JPOI confirmed & lifted some of these targets to an advanced level of International Agreement in reply to lack of development to date. Type II Partnerships are generally perceived as powerful tools & more democratic instruments for implementation of Agenda 21, however, they are also seen as an ambivalent instrument, as they offer the opportunity to bring some results without really binding Governments to tough action. Therefore, it remains uncertain whether the official recognition of Type II corporations would fortify the principal inter-governmental commitments or marginalize them.

Overall, the discussions that took place during the conference shifted the attention of SD away from the environmental & more towards the social & economic development perspective. This shift was mainly driven by the developing country’s needs & particularly influence by the Millennium Declaration & its associated goals partly reiterated a conference’s final deliverables. In this sense, it can be argued that this shift is reflected by the introduction of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities & the focus on issues such as poverty, education & sanitation. 

Despite the efforts of the conference to integrate civil society in the negotiations of the outcome (i.e., multi-stake holders’ dialogues), they remain rather secondary to traditional state-centric negotiations or public relation exercises. The failure of Multi-stakeholder involvement can be explained by the fact that they

Came too late in the negotiation process for being substantially influential;

Was characterized by a lack of participation from Government Delegations;

Had rather formal monolog style of discussion then been an interactive dialogue.

 In this sense, the multi-stakeholder dialogues remained a rather symbolic gesture of global democratic governance within the negotiations process & final negotiations were as usual dominated by diplomates defending their country’s particular priorities & sensitivities linked to the national sovereignty. However, the institutionalization of new & innovative deliberative practices represented a shift towards enacting a model which reflects key features of the stakeholder model of democracy & which is crucial to any discussion of SD policies & sustainability politics.

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1 Comment

Our Common Future, The Brundtland Report, 1987 - The Green Politics · August 24, 2021 at 9:26 pm

[…] World Commission on the Environment and Development has been urged to establish “a worldwide agenda for change.” This was an urgent appeal […]

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