Do you still have doubts about Agenda 21? That it couldn’t happen here?
When will you pull you head out of the sand?
By Carl Teichrib
February 12th, 2013
“Agenda 21, the action plan to implement the principles and agreements of Rio, is a blueprint for constructing the new world order called for at Rio. It is vital that people grasp this new vision of our future and understand how they can contribute to its realization”. – Maurice Strong, Forward, The Earth Summit’s Agenda for Change.1
“With the end of the ideological conflict that dominated a generation of international affairs, a new world order, shaped by a new agenda, will emerge. If the physical degradation of the planet becomes the principal preoccupation of the global community, then environmental sustainability will become the organizing principle of this new order… For the first time since the emergence of the nation-state, all countries can unite around a common theme.” – Lester R. Brown, speaking on the Rio Earth Summit.2
“What’s old is new again.”
To some extent Agenda 21 fits this mold. Emanating from the 1992 United Nations Rio Earth Summit, officially known as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), concerns were raised by political researchers during the mid-to-late 1990s about the dangers posed by federal agencies looking to implement Agenda 21 management principles, particularly as it related to property rights, energy and industry, and agriculture.
Research articles were published, hearings took place, education campaigns were launched, and the topic was a talking point on some radio shows. Arguably, it wasn’t a mainstream issue – not in the sense of being a nationally recognized news story. Nevertheless, an energized effort to inform the public did make headway during that time.
Then came the “war on terror, instantly becoming the international talking point. Paralleling this was the intensified battle over climate change. Agenda 21, it appeared to many, had faded into the background. Ironically, and not unknown to the research community, the Kyoto convention on climate change was launched through the Earth Summit process and was an extension of the Agenda 21 concept. All of this said, researchers and environmental lobbyists understood the long-term relevance of Agenda 21, and a back-story political struggle continued between advocates of private property versus those pushing socialized management. In this sense Agenda 21 never went “out of style” although the general public was largely ignorant of the controversy.
Now, approximately 20 years after UNCED and the release of Agenda 21, it has once again become a political focal point, especially in the United States. Consider the following.
In 2012 the Republican Party passed a resolution opposing Agenda 21, and in January 2013 a Missouri House committee found itself with an Agenda 21 ban proposal. In Oklahoma, two Agenda 21 ban resolutions are on the table, and anti-Agenda 21 legislation is before the Virginia House of Delegates. Educational meetings are springing up across the country as political researchers seek to inform the public about this critical issue.
the Obama administration has put forward environmental and economic platforms that are reminiscent of Agenda 21, and has enhanced the federal funding of Local Governments for Sustainability, also known as ICLEI – a global Agenda 21 support organization working with more than 600 jurisdictions in the United States. On another front, agri-industry giant Monsanto joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) on January 22, 2013. The WBCSD, established to draw global businesses into the Earth Summit framework, partners with more than 200 major corporations in the pursuit of Agenda 21 sustainability concepts.
And last year’s Rio+20 conference, meant to bolster the original 1992 UNCED package, helped reawaken the topic.
Today, right or wrong, Agenda 21 is being dragged into an assortment of arguments, fueled in large part by the heated rhetoric of left-right pundits. This doesn’t mean it’s unimportant; It is, as it has already impacted national, state/provincial, and local management policies. But like so much else that can become emotionally charged, we tend to lose something in the noise.
That said, the purpose of this essay isn’t to explore the text of Agenda 21. Many other researchers and writers have done this. Rather, we need to focus on what Agenda 21 is, and what it was hoped to be. This second part represents an underlying story, revealing the heartbeat of Rio
On the other side of the coin is the fact that…
Revisiting Agenda 21
….Agenda 21 is not a binding treaty. It does not have a legal and contractual mechanism in the same manner as multilateral treaties or conventions. However, this doesn’t mean it’s benign. Far from it.
Instead of being a treaty with enforcement mechanisms, this cornerstone UNCED document places the emphasis on voluntary implementation. Each country that signed Agenda 21 agreed to it as a framework, a structural instrument used by nations to shape their own domestic policies for a common “global good. In this sense it is a visioning blueprint meant to guide the planet’s citizens into “a new cooperative global partnership.3 Agenda 21, along with the other Rio agreements, act as a skeletal structure for global governance.
For those unfamiliar with global governance, it is a doctrine of pooled international cooperation based on governments voluntarily acting for the “general good through an agreed framework.
This governance theme floated throughout the Earth Summit, and was reflected in the post-Rio environmental literature. Consider a 1994 document from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), a highly influential and government-founded policy organization based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Technical note: Maurice Strong, the Secretary-General of UNCED, was an IISD board member during the 1990s).
“UNCED also holds a broader significance. The environmental issue was set up as a global issue in need for global action. There were demands to strengthen international law, which could make nations toe the line. Non governmental organizations (NGOs) had been forming global networks and were working on global campaigns.
These efforts at the global level directly contributed to building a sense of global identity, or global citizenship which would be the first step towards global governance.4
The global governance approach goes something like this: