Agenda 21

United Nations | 1992

Agenda 21 is a voluntary action plan developed by the United Nations and national governments at the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 1992. At the Summit, governmental leaders worldwide agreed on the need to become more sustainable—to meet today’s needs without sacrificing our future. Read the action plan Agenda 21.

Agenda 21 presents a vision for how all levels of government—especially in the developing world—can take voluntary action to combat poverty and pollution, conserve natural resources and develop in a sustainable manner. One-hundred-seventy-eight nations, including the United States under the Bush Administration, adopted the agenda.


“1.1 Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can – in a global partnership for sustainable development.”

Agenda 21 is not a treaty or legally binding document and does not infringe upon the sovereignty of any nation, state, or local government. Agenda 21 does not advocate for abolishing private property or have any bearing on U.S. local and state land-use decisions. In other words, it isn’t being forced on anybody, anywhere, by any organisation.

A chapter within Agenda 21 introduces the concept of a “Local Agenda 21” and offers a vision for how local governments can develop their own sustainability initiatives.

28.1. Because so many of the problems and solutions being addressed by Agenda 21 have their roots in local activities, the participation and cooperation of local authorities will be a determining factor in fulfilling its objectives. Local authorities construct, operate and maintain economic, social and environmental infrastructure, oversee planning processes, establish local environmental policies and regulations, and assist in implementing national and subnational environmental policies. As the level of governance closest to the people, they play a vital role in educating, mobilizing and responding to the public to promote sustainable development.

A key theme with Agenda 21 was local self-determination and community engagement: “Each local authority should enter into a dialogue with its citizens, local organisations and private enterprises. Through consultation and consensus-building, local authorities would learn from citizens and local, civic, community, business and industrial organisations and acquire the information needed for formulating the best strategies. The process of consultation would increase household awareness of sustainable development issues.”

This publication is part of Ecosystem City: Lessons from the Forest