Sustainability requires living within a system's carrying capacity, the point of a system's maximum capacity to renew itself or safely absorb wastes. Global population growth and per capita resource use and waste creation is currently unsustainable. Developing sustainability strategies facilitates humans to live within the carrying capacity of the Earth.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro, June 1992, and now coordinated by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
Agenda 21 recommends that governments, in cooperation with international organizations where appropriate, should adopt national strategies for sustainable development based on, [inter alia], the implementation of decisions taken at UNCED, particularly in respect of Agenda 21. Such strategies should build upon and harmonize the various sectoral economic, social and environmental policies and plans that are operating in a country. The experience gained through existing planning exercises such as national reports for UNCED, national conservation strategies and environment action plans should be fully used and incorporated into a country-driven sustainable development strategy. The goal should be to ensure socially responsible economic development while protecting the resource base and the environment for the benefit of future generations. It should be developed through the widest possible participation and should be based on a thorough assessment of the current situation and initiatives.
Agenda 21 further recommends that countries develop systems for monitoring and evaluation of progress towards achieving sustainable development by adopting indicators that measure changes across economic, social and environmental dimensions. It also suggests the undertaking of applied study on the integration of environmental and developmental activities into national development plans. Agenda 21 recommends support and concentration of UNEP capacity in this area.
As part of the national preparations for UNCED, UN member countries were asked by UNCED Secretariat to prepare reports on their environment and development situations. The secretariat produced a series of guidelines to assist countries, proposing that each report should address the following topics: development trends; environmental impacts; responses to environment and development issues such as principles and goals, policies, legislation, institutions, programmes and projects; and international cooperation. Guidelines also were written on procedures for preparing the reports and countries were requested to anticipate the results of the conference. Many countries consulted local, regional and international NGOs, women's groups and industry in the preparation of their national reports. The reports identify how national economic and other activities can stay within the constraints imposed by the need to conserve natural resources. Some consider issues of equity, justice and fairness. These studies are intended to help ensure that development policies will bequeath to the next generation a natural resource inheritance either the same as, or better than the present one. As mentioned above, it is hoped that these reports form the foundation for drawing up future national sustainable development strategies that promote public participation in decision-making. The UNCED Secretariat, together with the UNDP is planning a "follow-up" unit to help support this endeavour.
The USA Agency for International Development (USAID) produces country environmental profiles to assess the country's natural resource potential in relation to its economic growth. A typical country profile: documents the condition of a country's environment and the human activities and other socioeconomic factors that influence natural resource use and management; describes the existing legal and institutional framework for managing natural resources and the environment; identifies and analyzes government policies, development strategies, programme priorities and investment needs related to natural resource use and environmental management; identifies areas of congruity and conflict between economic development and the sustained use of natural resources; and establishes an analytical framework for resolving conflicts in the existing use and planned allocation of natural resources. Most profiles conclude with recommendations for changes in environmental and development policies and for action to be taken to promote sustainable development. The profiles are developed as a result of dialogue with host-country leaders, development agency personnel and national resource experts. They have been produced for approximately 70 developing countries.
States have an important role to play in the follow-up of UNCED and the implementation of Agenda 21. National level efforts should be undertaken by all countries in an integrated manner so that both environment and development concerns can be dealt with in a coherent manner.