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 Earth Summit / 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.

The ten day mega-summit, which culminated in a three-day high-level UN conference, was organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and included participation from 192 UN member states — including 57 Heads of State and 31 Heads of Government, private sector companies, NGOs and other groups. The decision to hold the conference was made by UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/64/236 on 24 December 2009. It was intended to be a high-level conference, including heads of state and government or other representatives and resulting in a focused political document designed to shape global environmental policy.


The conference had three objectives:

  • Securing renewed political commitment for sustainable development
  • Assessing the progress and implementation gaps in meeting previous commitments.
  • Addressing new and emerging challenges.


  • The primary result of the conference was the nonbinding document, “The Future We Want,” a 49 page work paper. In it, the heads of state of the 192 governments in attendance renewed their political commitment to sustainable development and declared their commitment to the promotion of a sustainable future. The document largely reaffirms previous action plans like Agenda 21.

Some important outcomes include the following:

  • “The text includes language supporting the development of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of measurable targets aimed at promoting sustainable development globally. It is thought that the SDGs will pick up where the Millenium Development Goals leave off and address criticism that the original Goals fail to address the role of the environment in development.”
  • The attempt to shore up the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in order to make it the “leading global environmental authority” by setting forth eight key recommendations including, strengthening its governance through universal membership, increasing its financial resources and strengthening its engagement in key UN coordination bodies.
  • Nations agreed to explore alternatives to GDP as a measure of wealth that take environmental and social factors into account in an effort to assess and pay for ‘environmental services’ provided by nature, such as carbon sequestration and habitat protection.
  • Recognition that “fundamental changes in the way societies consume and produce are indispensable for achieving global sustainable development.” EU officials suggest it could lead to a shift of taxes so workers pay less and polluters and landfill operators pay more.
  • The document calls the need to return ocean stocks to sustainable levels “urgent” and calls on countries to develop and implement science based management plans.
  • All nations reaffirmed commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development. It is a product of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) 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. The “21” in Agenda 21 refers to the 21st century. It has been affirmed and modified at subsequent UN conferences.