The World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) refers to a summit that occurred in Johannesburg in the last week of August and first week of September 2002.
It was held under the auspices of the United Nations and was a follow up to similar summits that had taken place in Stockholm, Sweden, 1972 and in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992, where the name Earth Summit was first coined.
WSSD looked to follow up on where Rio had left off, and also sought to examine any forgotten lessons from Stockholm. The world had changed considerably since the Rio de Janeiro summit, and against this backdrop, five areas formed the basis of the summit: 1) Water and sanitation 2) Energy 3) Human health 4) Agricultural productivity 5) Biodiversity and ecosystem management.
The summit was held in a much less optimistic atmosphere than the previous two summits, due to the geo-political situation at the time as well as the obvious lack of political willpower on the part of the developed world to keep to the agreements of the Rio de Janeiro.
Sustainability was the catch phrase of the WSSD, and even as it drew to a close, the organizers looked to come up with ways of binding the participants into agreements that would actually be effective, particularly considering the ineffective nature of the resulting declarations from both Stockholm (The Stockholm Plan of Action) and Rio de Janeiro (Agenda 21). This led to the rather unique nature and structure of the Johannesburg Declaration.
The structure of the agreements within the declaration were referred to as ‘Type 2’ agreements and involved arrangements or Memorandums of Understanding between states and non-state players or Non-Governmental Organizations, as well as between states themselves and also, between NGOs. This was not only a response to the rather ineffectual agreements of the previous summits that states had largely ignored, but also a direct recognition of the greater role that non-state players like NGOs had in the world.
Some of the goals of the plan of Implementation ensconced in the Johannesburg Declaration include the establishment of a poverty eradication fund; reaffirmation of the UN Millennium Summit goal to cut in half the proportion of the world’s population living on less than a dollar a day as well as the number of people who lack clean drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015, and halving the number of people suffering from hunger.
WSSD has been criticized for being less ambitious and weaker than its predecessors, but it’s proponents argue that it was by far a summit with more realistic goals.