Agenda 21

Last updated

Agenda 21
Agenda 21 Cover.gif
Cover of the first edition (paperback)
Author United Nations (1992)
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, French, Spanish, Portuguese
PublisherUnited Nations
Publication date
23 April 1992
(28 years ago)
Media typePrint (Paperback), HTML, PDF
Pages300 pp
ISBN 978-92-1-100509-7

Agenda 21 [1] is a non-binding action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development. [2] It is a product of the Earth Summit (UN Conference on Environment and Development) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. It is an action agenda for the UN, other multilateral organizations, and individual governments around the world that can be executed at local, national, and global levels.[ citation needed ]


The "21" in Agenda 21 refers to the original target of the 21st century where they were hoping to achieve their development goals by then. It has been affirmed and had a few modifications at subsequent UN conferences. Since it found 2000 [1] was an overly optimistic date, its new timeline is targeting 2030. Its aim is to achieve global sustainable development. One major objective of the Agenda 21 initiative is that every local government should draw its own local Agenda 21. Since 2015, Sustainable Development Goals are included in the newer Agenda 2030.[ citation needed ]


Agenda 21 is a 351-page document divided into 40 chapters that have been grouped into 4 sections:

Development and evolution

The full text of Agenda 21 was made public at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit), held in Rio de Janeiro on 13 June 1992, where 178 governments voted to adopt the program. The final text was the result of drafting, consultation, and negotiation, beginning in 1989 and culminating at the two-week conference.[ citation needed ]

Rio+5 (1997)

In 1997, the UN General Assembly held a special session to appraise the status of Agenda 21 (Rio +5). The Assembly recognized progress as "uneven" and identified key trends, including increasing globalization, widening inequalities in income, and continued deterioration of the global environment. A new General Assembly Resolution (S-19/2) promised further action.[ citation needed ]

Rio+10 (2002)

The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, agreed to at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Earth Summit 2002), affirmed UN commitment to "full implementation" of Agenda 21, alongside achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and other international agreements.[ citation needed ]

Agenda 21 for culture (2002)

The first World Public Meeting on Culture, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2002, came up with the idea to establish guidelines for local cultural policies, something comparable to what Agenda 21 was for the environment. [4] They are to be included in various subsections of Agenda 21 and will be carried out through a wide range of sub-programs beginning with G8  countries.[ citation needed ]

Rio+20 (2012)

In 2012, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development the attending members reaffirmed their commitment to Agenda 21 in their outcome document called "The Future We Want". Leaders from 180 nations participated.[ citation needed ]

Sustainable Development Summit (2015)

Agenda 2030, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals, was a set of goals decided upon at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in 2015. [5] It takes all of the goals set by Agenda 21 and re-asserts them as the basis for sustainable development, saying, "We reaffirm all the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development…” [6] Adding onto those goals from the original Rio document, a total of 17 goals have been agreed on, revolving around the same concepts of Agenda 21; people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. [7]


The Commission on Sustainable Development acts as a high-level forum on sustainable development and has acted as preparatory committee for summits and sessions on the implementation of Agenda 21. The UN Division for Sustainable Development acts as the secretariat to the Commission and works "within the context of" Agenda 21.[ citation needed ]

Implementation by member states remains voluntary, and its adoption has varied.[ citation needed ]

Local level

The implementation of Agenda 21 was intended to involve action at international, national, regional and local levels. Some national and state governments have legislated or advised that local authorities take steps to implement the plan locally, as recommended in Chapter 28 of the document. These programs are often known as "Local Agenda 21" or "LA21". [8] For example, in the Philippines, the plan is "Philippines Agenda 21" (PA21). The group, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, formed in 1990; today its members come from over 1,000 cities, towns, and counties in 88 countries and is widely regarded as a paragon of Agenda 21 implementation. [9]

Europe turned out to be the continent where LA21 was best accepted and most implemented. [10] In Sweden, for example, all local governments have implemented a Local Agenda 21 initiative. [11]

Regional levels

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs' Division for Sustainable Development monitors and evaluates progress, nation by nation, towards the adoption of Agenda 21, and makes these reports available to the public on its website. [12]


Australia is a signatory to Agenda 21 and 88 of its municipalities subscribe to ICLEI, an organization that promotes Agenda 21 globally. Australia's membership is second only to that of the United States. [13]


In Africa, national support for Agenda 21 is strong and most countries are signatories. But support is often closely tied to environmental challenges specific to each country; for example, in 2002 Sam Nujoma, who was then President of Namibia, spoke about the importance of adhering to Agenda 21 at the 2002 Earth Summit, noting that as a semi-arid country, Namibia sets a lot of store in the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). [14] Furthermore, there is little mention of Agenda 21 at the local level in indigenous media. Only major municipalities in sub-Saharan African countries are members of ICLEI. Agenda 21 participation in North African countries mirrors that of Middle Eastern countries, with most countries being signatories but little to no adoption on the local-government level. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa generally have poorly documented Agenda 21 status reports.[ citation needed ] By contrast, South Africa's participation in Agenda 21 mirrors that of modern Europe, with 21 city members of ICLEI and support of Agenda 21 by national-level government.[ citation needed ]

North America

United States

The national focal point in the United States is the Division Chief for Sustainable Development and Multilateral Affairs, Office of Environmental Policy, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State. [15] A June 2012 poll of 1,300 United States voters by the American Planning Association found that 9% supported Agenda 21, 6% opposed it, and 85% thought they didn't have enough information to form an opinion. [16]


The United States is a signatory country to Agenda 21, but because Agenda 21 is a legally non-binding statement of intent and not a treaty, the United States Senate did not hold a formal debate or vote on it. It is therefore not considered to be law under Article Six of the United States Constitution. President George H. W. Bush was one of the 178 heads of government who signed the final text of the agreement at the Earth Summit in 1992, [17] [18] and in the same year Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Eliot Engel and William Broomfield spoke in support of United States House of Representatives Concurrent Resolution 353, supporting implementation of Agenda 21 in the United States. [16] [19] Created by a 1993 Executive Order, the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) is explicitly charged with recommending a national action plan for sustainable development to the President. The PCSD is composed of leaders from government and industry, as well as from environmental, labor and civil rights organizations. The PCSD submitted its report, "Sustainable America: A New Consensus", to the President in early 1996. In the absence of a multi-sectoral consensus on how to achieve sustainable development in the United States, the PCSD was conceived to formulate recommendations for the implementation of Agenda 21.[ citation needed ]

In the United States, over 528 cities are members of ICLEI, an international sustainability organization that helps to implement the Agenda 21 and Local Agenda 21 concepts across the world. The United States has nearly half of the ICLEI's global membership of 1,200 cities promoting sustainable development at a local level. [13] The United States also has one of the most comprehensively documented Agenda 21 status reports. [20] In response to the opposition, Don Knapp, U.S. spokesman for the ICLEI, has said "Sustainable development is not a top-down conspiracy from the U.N., but a bottom-up push from local governments". [16]

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry successfully lobbied against an anti-sustainable development bill in 2012, arguing "It would be bad for business" as it could drive away corporations that have embraced sustainable development. [16]


Anti-Agenda 21 theories have circulated in the U.S. Some Tea Party movement activists and others promoted the notion that Agenda 21 was part of a UN plot to deny property rights, undermine U.S. sovereignty, or force citizens to move to cities. [21] [22] [9] [16] [23] Activists believed that the non-binding UN resolution was "the linchpin in a plot to subjugate humanity under an eco-totalitarian regime." [22] The conspiracy had its roots in anti-environmentalist ideology and opposition to land-use regulation. [23]

Agenda 21 fears have played a role in opposition to local government's efforts to promote resource and land conservation, build bike lanes, and construct hubs for public transportation. [21] The non-profit group ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability USA – was targeted by anti-Agenda 21 activists. [21] In 2012 Glenn Beck co-wrote a dystopian novel titled Agenda 21 based in part on concepts discussed in the UN plan. [24] [25] [26] In the same year, fears of Agenda 21 "went mainstream" when the Republican National Committee adopted a platform resolution stated that "We strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty." [27] [22]

Several state and local governments have considered or passed motions and legislation opposing Agenda 21. [9] [16] [22] Most such bills failed, "either dying in committee, getting defeated on the statehouse floor or – in the case of Missouri's 2013 bill – getting vetoed by the governor." [22] In Texas, for example, broadly worded legislation that would prohibit any governmental entity from accepting from or granting money to any "nongovernmental or intergovernmental organization accredited by the United Nations to implement a policy that originated in the Agenda 21 plan" was defeated because it could have cut off funding for groups such as 4-H, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Texas Wildlife Association. [22] In Arizona, a similarly sweeping bill was introduced in the Arizona State Legislature seeking to mandate that the state could not "adopt or implement the creed, doctrine, or principles or any tenet" of Agenda 21 and to prohibit the state "implementing programs of, expending any sum of money for, being a member of, receiving funding from, contracting services from, or giving financial or other forms of aid to" an array of sustainability organizations. [22] The bill, which was opposed by the state chamber of commerce and the mayor of Phoenix, was defeated in 2012. [22] Alabama was one state that did adopt an anti-Agenda 21 resolution, unanimously passing in 2012 a measure to block "any future effort to 'deliberately or inadvertently infringe or restrict private property rights without due process, as may be required by policy recommendations originating in, or traceable to 'Agenda 21.'" [22]


The Agenda 21 status of European countries is generally well-documented.[ citation needed ] By 1997 70% of UK local authorities had committed to Agenda 21. [28] Many, such as the London Borough of Enfield, employed Agenda 21 officers to promote the programme. [29]


France, whose national government, along with 14 cities, is a signatory, promotes nationwide programs in support of the goals of Agenda 21.[ citation needed ]

Baltic nations

Baltic nations formed the Baltic 21 coalition as a regional expression of Agenda 21. [30]

Conspiracy theory

Far right-wing groups, including the John Birch Society, assert that Agenda 21 is part of a scheme using environmental protection as a cover to impose a worldwide dictatorship. [31]

See also

Related Research Articles

United Nations Environment Programme Programme of the United Nations

The United Nations Environment Programme is responsible for coordinating the UN's environmental activities and assisting developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices.

Earth Summit international conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, the Rio Summit, the Rio Conference, and the Earth Summit, was a major United Nations conference held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June in 1992.

International development Concept concerning the level of development on an international scale

International development or global development is a broad concept denoting the idea that societies and countries have differing levels of "development" on an international scale. It is the basis for international classifications such as developed country, developing country and least developed country, and for a field of practice and research that in various ways engages with international development processes. There are, however, many schools of thought and conventions regarding which are the exact features constituting the "development" of a country.

The United Nations Global Compact is a non-binding United Nations pact to encourage businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, and to report on their implementation. The UN Global Compact is a principle-based framework for businesses, stating ten principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment and anti-corruption. Under the Global Compact, companies are brought together with UN agencies, labor groups and civil society. Cities can join the Global Compact through the Cities Programme.

United Nations Volunteers Serve struggling peoples

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is a United Nations organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide.

ICLEI international organization

ICLEILocal Governments for Sustainability is an international organization of local and regional governments that have made a commitment to sustainable development.

United Nations Forum on Forests Intergovernmental policy forum

The United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) is a high-level intergovernmental policy forum. The forum includes all United Nations member states and permanent observers, the UNFF Secretariat, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, Regional Organizations and Processes and Major Groups.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Government organization in New York, United States

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs is part of the United Nations Secretariat and is responsible for the follow-up to major United Nations Summits and Conferences, as well as services to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the Second and Third Committees of the United Nations General Assembly. UN DESA assists countries around the world in agenda-setting and decision-making with the goal of meeting their economic, social and environmental challenges. It supports international cooperation to promote sustainable development for all, having as a foundation the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as adopted by the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2015. In providing a broad range of analytical products, policy advice, and technical assistance, UN DESA effectively translates global commitments in the economic, social and environmental spheres into national policies and actions and continues to play a key role in monitoring progress towards internationally agreed-upon development goals. It is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.

United Nations Office for Partnerships organization

The United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP) strives to serve as a gateway for public-private partnerships in furtherance of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Office oversees the following areas:

Baltic 21 is a plan to cooperate on implementing regional sustainable development. It is managed by the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS).

Environmental governance is a concept in political ecology and environmental policy that advocates sustainability as the supreme consideration for managing all human activities—political, social and economic. Governance includes government, business and civil society, and emphasizes whole system management. To capture this diverse range of elements, environmental governance often employs alternative systems of governance, for example watershed-based management.

United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development June 2012 UN conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio 2012, Rio+20, or Earth Summit 2012 was the third international conference on sustainable development aimed at reconciling the economic and environmental goals of the global community. Hosted by Brazil in Rio de Janeiro from 13 to 22 June 2012, Rio+20 was a 20-year follow-up to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in the same city, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

Post-2015 Development Agenda

The Post-2015 Development Agenda was a process from 2012 to 2015 led by the United Nations to define the future global development framework that would succeed the Millennium Development Goals. The new framework, starting from 2016 is called Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Development Goals Set of 17 global development goals defined by the United Nations for the year 2030

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all". The SDGs, set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and intended to be achieved by the year 2030, are part of a UN Resolution called the "2030 Agenda".

High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development core platform of the United Nations for monitoring and review of Agenda 2030.

The United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is a subsidiary body of both the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Economic and Social Council responsible for the entire organization's policy on sustainable development. It adopts negotiated declarations, reviews commitment and the progress of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Forum replaced the Commission on Sustainable Development on the 24 September 2013 Meetings of the Forum are open to all Member States of the United Nations.

Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, took place in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 – 20 October 2016.

United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth organization

Established in 1992, the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth is the United Nations General Assembly mandated, official, formal and self-organised space for children and youth to contribute to and engage in certain intergovernmental and allied policy processes at the United Nations.

The Earth Summits are decennial meetings of world leaders, organized since 1972 with help of the United Nations, to help defining ways to stimulate sustainable development at the global level. The aim is to bring together the best individuals and organisations humanity can bring forward from all kind of categories of life, to identify and update what are humanity's most pressing challenges, to quantify them, identify solutions and develop a plan of action not to run into a wall. This plan of action is called Agenda 21 and implemented by many local governments under the name Local Agenda 21. The plan of action is designed as a TQM - Total Quality Manual, designed smartly and open enough, so that also organisations, companies and individuals can use it as a basis for their own plan of action and guidance not to miss out on important issue; it helps speed up understanding and identifying partners by e.g. using similar wordings and symbols. The 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals and the 2015-2030 Global Goals are results from these Earth Summits. The first summit took place in Stockholm ([Sweden]) in 1972, the second in Nairobi (Kenya) in 1982, the third in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in 1992 and the fourth in Johannesburg in 2002. Last Earth Summit, called Rio+20, also took place in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.

Sustainable Development Goal 11 The 11th of 17 Sustainable Development Goals for sustainable cities

Sustainable Development Goal 11 is about "sustainable cities and communities" and is one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. The SDG 11 is to "Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable". The 17 SDGs take into account that action in one area will affect outcomes in other areas as well, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability. SDG 11 has proven to be of critical importance during the covid 19 pandemic by ensuring a reduction in exposure to those living in crowded areas.The pandemic has showed us that there still a challenge in our urban spacing as 90% cases are in this areas.

Sustainable Development Goals and Lebanon

Sustainable Development Goals and Lebanon explains major contributions launched in Lebanon towards the advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs and the 2030 agenda.


  1. 1 2 "Agenda 21 text (pdf)" (PDF).
  2. "What is Agenda 21?". ICLEIUSA. Archived from the original on 12 December 2012. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  3. "Agenda 21" (PDF).
  4. "Culture 21 – Agenda 21 for culture". Archived from the original on 25 December 2009. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  5. "United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform". Archived from the original on 11 December 2017. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  6. "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform". Archived from the original on 5 December 2017. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  7. "Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015". Archived from the original on 10 November 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  8. Manchester Metropolitan University Archived 22 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  9. 1 2 3 Kaufman, Leslie; Kate Zernike (3 February 2012). "Activists Fight Green Projects, Seeing U.N. Plot". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 19 August 2012.
  10. Smardon, Richard (2008). "A comparison of Local Agenda 21 implementation in North American, European and Indian cities". Management of Environmental Quality. 19 (1): 118–137. doi:10.1108/14777830810840408. Archived from the original on 11 June 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
  11. Jörby, Sofie (2002). "Local Agenda 21 in four Swedish Municipalities: a tool towards sustainability". Journal of Environmental Planning and Management. 45 (2): 219–244. doi:10.1080/09640560220116314.
  12. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. "Areas of Work – National Information by Country or Organization". United Nations. Archived from the original on 4 August 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  13. 1 2 ICLEI. "ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability: Global Members". Archived from the original on 25 July 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  14. "Namibian president calls for implementation of Agenda 21". Xinhua News Agency. 2 September 2002. Archived from the original on 15 January 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  15. "United States of America". Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. United Nations. Archived from the original on 22 October 2013.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Tea Party Activists Fight Agenda 21, Seeing Threatening U.N. Plot". Huffington Post. 15 October 2012. Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  17. "Senators attack sustainable development, Agenda 21". The Courier-Journal . 20 February 2013. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013.
  18. "Secret agenda at city hall?". Wyoming Tribune Eagle. 4 November 2012.
  19. Arnie Rosner (3 March 2012). "Agenda 21 Nancy Pelosi .mp4". Archived from the original on 23 March 2018. Retrieved 27 April 2018 via YouTube.
  20. "Agenda 21 – United States". Archived from the original on 8 October 2017. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  21. 1 2 3 Kaufman, Leslie; Kate Zernike (4 February 2012). "Activists Fight Green Projects, Seeing U.N. Plot". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 30 May 2013.
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Greg Harman, Agenda 21: a conspiracy theory puts sustainability in the crosshairs Archived 26 June 2017 at the Wayback Machine , The Guardian (24 June 2015).
  23. 1 2 Hinkes-Jones, Llewellyn (29 August 2012). "The Anti-Environmentalist Roots of the Agenda 21 Conspiracy Theory". Archived from the original on 1 October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  24. "Agenda 21 By Glenn Beck, Harriet Parke". USA Today. 2012. Archived from the original on 9 September 2012.
  25. Cypher, Sarah (19 November 2012). "I got duped by Glenn Beck!". Archived from the original on 16 January 2015.
  26. "Best Sellers". The New York Times. 9 December 2012. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016.
  27. Jamison, Peter (30 August 2012). "Fears of Agenda 21 go mainstream in the Republican Party platform". Tampa Bay Times. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  28. "House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 20 May 1997 (pt 7)". Retrieved 1 July 2020.
  29. "Enfield Council agenda 24th January, 2007" (PDF).
  30. "Sustainable Development - Baltic 2030 -". Archived from the original on 15 November 2017. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  31. Agenda 21: The UN, Sustainability and Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory, Southern Poverty Law Center, April 1, 2014