Despite the bad press surrounding the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), the outcomes of the event confirm that WSSD served to reinvigorate global commitments and actions to sustainable development.
The Summit, which took place from 26 August - 4 September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa, aimed to review progress made towards Sustainable Development over the past 10 years and to work towards commitments to action (UN General Assembly Resolution 55/199). It saw the largest ever gathering of world leaders and over 21,000 participants from 191 government, intergovernmental and non-government organisations, the private sector, academia and the scientific community (IISD, 2002). The mere presence of these stakeholders, willing to engage in the negotiation process, demonstrates that sustainable development is very much alive and relevant.
President Thabo Mbeki opened by characterising the growing gap between North and South as “global apartheid” and highlighting the crises of poverty and ecological degradation. It was clear then that the outcomes of the Summit had to go beyond the Rio 1992 commitments which focused on environmental actions. He called for a practicable and meaningful Johannesburg Plan of Implementation to fulfil the framework of Agenda 21 within the Summit theme of “People, Planet and Prosperity”.