agenda 21
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This article is written by Arkodeep Gorai, a fourth year student from Amity Law School, Noida. In this article he discusses about Kyoto Conference and Agenda 21 with reference to Rio Declaration.


There has been a massive change in Earth’s climate and our environment has undoubtedly suffered a lot due to the fact that humans have exploited nature without any consideration. The United Nations finally acknowledged the global warming in 1990 and came up with the Kyoto Protocol and in the year 1992, the United Nations opted for sustainable development so they came up with a conference which was called the Rio Declaration. In this article, we will take a look at the various provisions and measures that were laid down in these conferences.

Kyoto Conference

Kyoto Conference Meaning

Kyoto Protocol also referred to as the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was an environment related treaty that was signed in the city of Kyoto in the year 1997.

Kyoto Protocol was named after the Japanese city of Kyoto. The main aim of the Kyoto Protocol was to work towards reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. The six identified green gases were Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Perfluorocarbons, Hydro-fluorocarbons and Sulfur Hexafluoride. These six gases were known to be causing global warming and the main aim of the Kyoto Protocol was to reduce the amount of emission of greenhouse gases.

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It came into effect in the year 2005 and the Kyoto Protocol wanted 41 countries and the European Union to participate in the protocol. The Kyoto Protocol wanted those 41 countries and the European Union to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases to 5.2 percent. The process of reduction was scheduled in the “Commitment Period” and the commitment period was from the year 2008 to 2012.

Provisions related to the Kyoto Conference

The Kyoto Protocol was part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The conference wanted its participant countries to make and amend programs that would result in the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases. The reason they wanted the participant countries to make amendments was that there was a rise in temperature which was global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel which was established under the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization laid down the ill effects of global warming and they were due to the heating of earth’s atmosphere, for instance the polar caps in the Arctic will start melting and then eventually there will be arctic permafrost. Melting of ice will result in a rise of sea level and which would lead to two further problems, first the flora and fauna of the Arctic will be destroyed and second, majority of low lying coastal cities will be flooded along with many islands completely submerging in water. These ill effects don’t just stop there, adding more to the list there would be extreme climate change, flood, drought and finally a mass scale of extinction of human and plant life on the planet. The mass scale will account for 20-30% of life forms on planet Earth. 

So in the Kyoto Protocol, the officials divided the countries into two parts, namely Annex I and Annex II. So Annex I consisted of developed countries and the developing countries was put in Annex II.

The protocol insisted the percent of reduction of the gases shall be around the 5.6 percent mark, but each country was allowed to set their own emission reduction parameters. The Kyoto Protocol put the emission restrictions in the countries that were included in Annex I. By the time the agreement was put into force the members of the European Union set the restriction to 8 percent, Canada set it to 6 percent and Unites State of America set it to 7 percent.  It was not necessary for all countries to limit their emissions. The reason was that each country had its own different circumstances which made fixing the limitation number pretty difficult. Those different circumstances included many countries had their own industrial belts and some countries had scattered industries throughout.

The reason countries in Annex II were not subject to emission restriction is because they were developing countries. Developing countries needed much more industries to function and those countries might lack the means to amend the Kyoto Protocol. On the other hand, Kyoto Protocol dedicated the majority of the Annex I participants and also countries who had their economy in conversion.

The Kyoto Protocol came into force in the year 2005 when 55 of the participants of Annex I sanctioned the Protocol. Those 55 countries actually resulted in 60% of total greenhouse gases emission in the year of 1990.

Means suggested by the Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol laid down many measures which aimed at reducing the greenhouse gases emission. The first method that the Kyoto Protocol suggested was to use sinks. Sinks are actually natural processes, an example of a sink would be planting of trees to remove carbon dioxide. It was the most basic method introduced by the Protocol.

The second method introduced by the Kyoto Protocol was subsidies. The Kyoto Protocol suggested its participating countries to provide subsidies to industries. The method stated that the Government should pay subsidies to the industries as per the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they reduce. It was supposedly an effective measure.

The third method was the introduction of taxes. The government may impose a substantial amount of taxes for greenhouse gas emission. This would be a two-way advantage for the government. First, the tax acts as a revenue-generating mechanism for the government, second it would force industries to produce fewer greenhouse gases.

The fourth method was research and development policy. The international program of Clean Development Mechanism invigorated developed countries to capitalize on fresh and improved technology which would result in less release of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, the Clean Development Mechanism also suggested developed countries to invest in new technologies in developing countries which would benefit both parties and will also lead to a reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases.

The fifth method was the use of green power or green power policy. Under the green power policy, the government must help private firms and sectors to use clean energy sources instead of fossil fuels or coal. Usage of clean and green energy would automatically result in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and it would also act as a sustainable method where the current generation would not end up using a majority of the non-renewable sources of energy like coal, fossil fuel, and wood.

The sixth method was part of the Kyoto Protocol’s flexibility mechanism and that is International Emission Trading or IET. International Emission Trading was a better alternative to subsidies or taxes. Under International Emission Trading the government distributes a restricted number of licenses to release definite air pollutants i.e. greenhouse gases for a specific extent of time/duration. Such licenses can further be sold in the secondary market once a company gets hold of it. 

The final method was joint implementation. Under joint implementation or JI, one country from Annex I can invest its resources to another country from Annex I. Such investment shall be related to any project that aims to reduce greenhouse gases emission.

Enforcement of the protocol

If a country fails to comply with the emission limitation then such country must make up the lost marker in the second commitment period with an additional 30 percent and such country will be prohibited from any emission trading program. This only applied to participant countries in Annex I.

Annex I Countries
















European Union

New Zealand



Czech Republic












Russian Federation


Slovak Republic



These countries were part of the Annexure I list and they were required to comply with emission limitation. Each country had its own limitation number set since there was no hard rule regarding the emission restriction. Here

Criticism of the Kyoto Protocol

Even though the Kyoto Protocol was a treaty that involved almost all the big countries of the world but it still received its fair share of criticism.

The biggest critique of the Kyoto Protocol was that it was insufficient to avert much of environmental damages. Also, the costs incurred for the Kyoto Protocol outweighs its benefit. Kyoto Protocol has very generous limitation rate and delusional view on the effect of global warming. 

Another factor for criticism is the fact that even the Kyoto Protocol came into force in the year 2005, it still uses its baseline as 1990. There had been lots of changes by that time period. It makes it out-dated and irrelevant.

Also, the Kyoto Protocol exempted developing countries from the limitation rate which was not required. China is a developing country and it was exempted but the harsh fact is that China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. So the Kyoto Protocol should have considered other factors other than the label of developed and developing countries. Kyoto Protocol also failed to address any long term impact of such emissions and this makes the Protocol looks less visionary.

Agenda 21 with Rio Declaration

Agenda 21 meaning

Agenda 21 was a part of the Earth Summit under the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. It was made in favour of sustainable development. Agenda 21 is an action plan of the United Nation and it is non-binding in nature.

Agenda 21 is in reference to the 21st Century and that is what the number 21 stands for in Agenda 21. The main focus of Agenda 21 is to attain sustainable development throughout the world and to commit every local government of every country to make their own Agenda 21 plans to secure sustainable development.

It came into existence at the Rio Earth Summit in the year 1992 and the slogan for Agenda 21 was “think globally and act locally”.

In recent times Agenda 21 had been part of some conspiracy theory as well.

Evolution of Agenda 21

Rio +5

This was the initial phase of the Rio Conference. Then Prime Minister of Norway Ms Gro Horlem Brundtland talked about some of the most common problems that our world is facing. The problems that came into the light were the growing and broadening gap of wealth between rich and poor, increase in globalization and finally the worsening state of Earth’s environment. It was talked and dealt in the year 1997.

As a result of pointing out such key trends and problems, our world is facing, the General Assembly of the United Nations guaranteed additional actions regarding such. So Agenda 21 came into light.

Rio +10

Earth Summit with the main theme as Summit on Sustainable Development took place in the year 2002. It was introduced in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

So what the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation intended to do that they completely implemented the Agenda 21. Even though it was non-binding in nature but still it was implemented throughout the world.

Alongside implementing Agenda 21, the United Nations also planned to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals was put alongside with Agenda 21 and it was focused towards the newer generation of people.

Millennium Development Goals

MDG or Millennium Development Goals is a part of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. The provision of Millennium Development Goals is to achieve certain factors. Those factors from Millennium Development Goals are as follows:

  1. To remove poverty and hunger amongst people
  2. To promote primary education among all age group
  3. To instil gender equality and to remove such gender-based discrimination.
  4. MDG also aims to reduce child mortality.
  5. MDG plans to curb diseases such as HIV, Malaria and other such diseases.
  6. MDG also aims to have a sustainable environment.
  7. MDG also aims to introduce a worldwide partnership among countries for wholesome development.
  8. These are the goals that were drawn out in the Millennium Development Goals.

Agenda 21 for culture

Agenda 21 for culture is also known as Culture 21. So Culture 21 was brought into existence in the year 2002-04. The main focus of creating Culture 21 ways to introduce local culture and further promote it in an international ground. So once a culture is promoted that certainly means it will eventually result in the economic growth of that country as well.

This time by the provisions of Culture 21, the United Nations focused much more on household development of sustainable development. When Agenda 21 was introduced, the United Nations did not focus more on culture.

Rio +20

Rio +20 also known as Rio 2012 was another international conference on sustainable development by the United Nations. Rio 2012 was a 10-day summit and this time the United Nations focused on sustainable development along with economic development.

Rio 2012 mainly focused on three objectives and they are:

  1. Acquiring new political support from countries for sustainable development.
  2. Acknowledging the progress made in the last 20 years and trying to cover the gaps of all previous pledges.
  3. Discussing all new problems and their solutions.

Rio +20 was the biggest UN event and it attracted the attention of several communities. It was still a part of Agenda 21 which came into existence 20 years ago. But the absence of Barack Obama, David Cameron, and Angela Merkel showed that sustainable development was still not a priority.

The outcome of Rio +20 was the government of 192 countries renewed their policies regarding sustainable development. The motto of Rio +20 was “what we want”. Some of the outcomes of Rio +20 are as follows:

The emergence of SDG or as known as Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable Development Goals planned to succeed in MDG or Millennium Development Goals.

The participant countries planned to find an alternative to the Gross Domestic Product as a measure for the wealth of a country. The plan was to also include social and environmental factors while measuring a country’s wealth.

The plan also wanted participant countries to implement a change in the taxation system. The new proposed system discussed that low wage workers, labourers shall pay fewer taxes and polluters and operators shall more tax.

Another outcome was all the participant nations confirmed that they would segment out subsidies of fossil fuel.

Finally, all the participant nations talked about more than 400 voluntary programs.

Structure and contents of Agenda 21

Agenda 21 is divided into four sections and each section clears out the plan for Agenda 21. So the four sections are as follows:

Section I: Social and Economic Dimensions

Section I of Agenda 21 which talks about Social and Economic Dimensions can further be divided into 7 parts and these 7 parts are as follows:

International collaboration to speed up sustainable development in developing countries and the introduction of new policies:

The United Nations wanted all its member states to collaborate together and commit to new partnership terms on international grounds which shall be constructive in nature and focuses on a much more efficient world economy. It planned to introduce socialist ideas by having a much more equitable world economy. The need for such collaboration was due to the fact that speeding up of new changes and development required support on international grounds. Another way suggested was the promotion of sustainable development through an open, secure, non-discriminative multilateral trading system that is focused on sustainable development. The main focus should be on commitment as commitment is required to meet sustainable development.

Combating poverty

Poverty is a problem that is faced by all the countries in the world without a doubt. So an idea of international cooperation would not be beneficial as compared to country-specific plans. The reason the United Nations opted for country-specific plans is that countries face poverty at different levels and each country can come up with their own plans and such plans will be backed by international support. The main aim was to provide poor people with a sustainable means of livelihood. Another aim was to provide funding in poverty-stricken areas and to opt for urbanization.

Changing consumption patterns

There is the presence of unsustainable patterns of production and consumption in the world and there was a need to focus on such unsustainable patterns. Unsustainable pattern needs more natural resources and it lacks the efficiency to use natural resources. Consumption is really high in a certain part of the society and hence there is zero equilibrium which actually harms us more than we anticipate. The lifestyle of the richer class is a prime example of why there is a need to change the consumption pattern. The lifestyle of the rich segment puts an immensely negative effect on society. This also results in the unavailability of resources at decent prices for the poor section of the society.

Demographic dynamics and sustainability

Here the demographics was discussed that we are concerned about our growing population. As the population keeps on growing and when that is combined with the unsustainable pattern it ultimately would result in damaging our planet and it will be irreversible at some point. There is an absolute need for comprehensive and dynamic policies that are in touch with the changing demographic pattern. Such policies must be focused on turning the unsustainable growth to a sustainable one and it shall benefit the earth’s environment. There is also a need for finding a newer and better alternative to natural resources because the world’s population will exceed 8 billion by the year 2020 and it certainly means the demand would be higher and supply will be lower.

Promoting and protecting human health

Health and development are connected with each other. A healthy country will develop faster than an unhealthy one. But the lack of development is leading to bad health. The causes are numerous but some of the bigger ones are growing population, inequitable distribution of wealth, lack of development and awareness and more. WHO shall coordinate with each member state and help them lay down new policies regarding the health and development of the citizens of their countries. On the other hand, countries should at least provide primary healthcare to all its population and control communicable diseases. The government shall provide financial aid and also all necessary help to non-government or volunteering programs that are helping out sick people or creating awareness. There is an imminent need for development in the health sector of many countries and that shall be taken care of as well.

Promoting sustainable human settlement development

So the United Nations have divided countries on two bases and that is developed countries and developing countries. As a result of that, the United Nations have laid down different policies and measures for developed countries and developing countries. Due to the high level of industrialisation in developed countries, the global ecosystem is suffering and it is mis-balancing the scale. On the other hand, developed countries lack investment and economic development and due to this, there has been an automatic constraint in the country’s development. To tackle this, the United Nations introduced the enabling method. Under the enabling method or the enabling approach the developed countries and give assistance in the form of investment or research to the developing countries. Also, both the developed countries and the developing countries shall improve and manage the human settlement and lay down policies for sustainable use of land and environmental resources.

Integrating environment and development in decision making

The government of many countries do not inculcate the environment when they are making any policy, planning or any management plan. The environment is separated from the economy when such policies are being made and this is without a doubt destroying our ecosystem. Even a little consideration for the environment in decision making is not enough and that is why the governments of every country shall integrate the environment whenever they make any new policy. There is a need for a new institutional structure that will focus and ensure integration of environment in development planning or policy.

Section II: Conservation and management of resources for development

The population will keep on increasing and that is a hard fact. There is an utter need for conserving and properly managing the natural resources of the earth. There are many resources of the earth which are very limited and with time they will get exhausted and humans will be left with nothing. Siberian tiger and dodo birds have already gone extinct and there had been a massive amount of deforestation. So it is safe to assume that humans lack management when it comes to conservation of the environment and our biological diversity. The way to tackle all of this is simply installing new legal mechanism and laws in the country that will make it an obligation for the citizens and the government to conserve our natural resources before they become nil. Also, there is a need for research for a newer and renewable form of energy which will make it viable for humans to use such resources without the worry of them going extinct. There is also a need to protect animals so that the food chain remains balanced and our bio-diversity is not destroyed.

Section III: Strengthening the role of major groups

There is an absolute need to integrate women in all developmental activities. The Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women is needed to be implemented in our society. The need for increasing the section of women involved in making policy or decision is an absolute necessity as well. The other groups that also need to be considered are the children and youth. It is also a requirement for integrating youth to participate actively in the decision-making process because it is the youth that is the future generation and any long term policy will affect them more than it would affect elders who are making such policy. So there should be a considerate amount of contribution from the youth in making of any policy. With the modernisation of our world, we must not forget about the indigenous people and their community. They are the original inhabitants of the land and they share a special bond with such land. They should be given the ability to participate fully in policies that are made regarding their lands because it is their right. Refusal to include them is nothing less than a violation of human rights.

Section IV: Means of Implementation

There is a need for transfer of technology which is environment friendly. Such transfer will assist in a better form of sustainable development in our society. Along with such transfer of resources, there is a need for science for sustainable development. Scientists are already improving their ideas behind climate change, rates in resource depletion and more. But such science can also teach us the way through which we can develop new long term strategies related to sustainable development and conservation of resources. Finally, there is a need to create awareness among the people, promoting education and imparting training to the general masses of people so that we can have a better sustainable lifestyle and development and we can preserve our biodiversity. 

Rio Declaration

There was a conference that took place in Rio de Janeiro in the year 1992. The conference went from 3rd June to 14th June and the conference laid down few principles upon which Agenda 21, Rio +5, Rio +10, Culture 21, Rio +20, Sustainable Development Summit and Agenda 2030 is based on and those principles are as follows:

  • Human beings should be concerned about sustainable development and every human is eligible for a better life.
  • States have the right to exploit their own resources and it is the responsibility of States to ensure that their exploitation does not harm the environment of any other State.
  • Environment protection shall be integrated into any new policy of a country.
  • Least developed countries and poor countries shall be given required help and they shall be given assistance in their time of need.
  • There shall be international co-operation among States for the protection of the environment and to seek a sustainable development of resources.
  • To achieve such sustainable development, the State shall remove all unnecessary practice which degrades our environment.


Agenda 21 faced many criticisms when it was introduced in the Rio Declaration in the year 1992. Especially in the United States, the people opposing Agenda 21 had to say that Agenda 21 is a means to force people out of their homes and cities. The SDG or the Sustainable Development Goals were also criticised for the lack of having any fundamental priorities and having too many goals and objectives.

Another criticism was that there was a lack of obligatory laws and most of the laws were left upon the discretion of the member state countries and hence this made the whole of Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration weaker.


Both the Kyoto Protocol and Agenda 21 were dynamic in nature and they identified that our environment needs protection. But the fact that both of these plans lacked proper guidance and planning and development goes on to show that we are in need of better policies which are clear and binding upon countries.




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