Elaborating general principles and obligations of states with respect to sustainable development

States' obligation toward sustainable development

There is no well defined set of principles to guide policy-making in the area of sustainable development. Such principles would be valuable in various applications: trade agreements; international environmental negotiations; national trade-related environment and development policies; structural adjustment plans; and trade-related investment. Properly applied, these principles could form the framework for determining the adequacy of existing international agreements, and for formulating new accords.


While ensuring the effective participation of all countries concerned, Agenda 21 recommends that Parties should at periodic intervals review and assess both the past performance and effectiveness of existing international agreements or instruments as well as the priorities for future law making on sustainable development. This may include an examination of the feasibility of elaborating general rights and obligations of states, as appropriate, in the field of sustainable development, as provided by UN General Assembly resolution 44/228. In certain cases, attention should be given to the possibility of taking into account varying circumstances through differential obligations or gradual application. As an option for carrying out this task, earlier UNEP practice may be followed whereby legal experts designated by governments could meet at suitable intervals with a broader environmental and developmental perspective.


This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.

Type Classification:
G: Very Specific strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal