How green was my earth? A beginner's guide to the World Summit on Sustainable Development

12 August 2002
What exactly is the WSSD?

The WSSD is the World Summit on Sustainable Development – also known as Johannesburg Summit 2002 – and promises to bring together tens of thousands of participants. The Summit's aim is to focus the world's attention and direct action toward meeting difficult challenges, including improving people's lives and conserving the natural resources in a world that is growing in population, with ever-increasing demands for food, water, shelter, sanitation, energy, health services and economic security.

What led to this?

It all really started with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro back in 1992. Here, the international community adopted Agenda 21, an "unprecedented" global plan of action for sustainable development. Ten years later, the Johannesburg Summit presents an exciting opportunity for today's leaders to adopt concrete steps and identify quantifiable targets for better implementing Agenda 21.

When is it taking place, and where?

The gathering will take place in Johannesburg from Monday, August 26, to Wednesday, September 4, 2002. It will be held in the Sandton Convention Centre, just outside Johannesburg. A non-governmental forum will take place at the nearby Gallagher Estate.

What will all the visitors be talking about?

Broadly speaking (ha-ha), the delegates will hold interlocutions on how the world can achieve a sustainable future. This, of course, could cover just about everything. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has, however, earmarked five areas that he thinks deserve special attention: water and sanitation; energy; health; agricultural productivity; and biodiversity and ecosystem management.

Will Bridget Bardot be there?

Not quite, but thousands of dignitaries from around the globe who hold the environment near and dear will. In addition to heads of state and government, there will also be a roll call of national delegates and leaders from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and business and industry, as well as children and youth, farmers, indigenous people, local authorities, the scientific and technological communities, women and workers and trade unions. A number of UCT students and faculty will also brave the multitudes to attend the meeting.

Who is organising it?

The Tenth Session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (known as CSD10) is acting as the Preparatory Committee for the Summit. In gearing up for the event, the CSD10 met in New Work in April/May last year, and again in January/February and March/April this year. They also got together in Bali in Indonesia over May/June.

Why South Africa?

Although South Africa was not officially represented at the Rio Summit, the changes in the country over the past decade convinced the UN that it would serve as a suitable host for the meeting. A leading member of the G77, South Africa was also at the forefront of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) negotiations. The G77 also championed the idea that the Summit be hosted in a developing country, and South Africa beat out contenders from Latin America, Africa and Asia for the right to stage the event (in what has been described as an "intensive, protracted and labyrinthine diplomatic effort").

I've heard of some side and parallel events – what are these?

Too many to mention here, but some of the discussions lined up will focus on Water for African Cities and the Launch of Women's Action Agenda for a Health and Peaceful Planet 2015. There will also be gatherings of the Civil Society Global Forum, the Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development and the Indigenous Peoples' International Summit on Sustainable Development, among many, many others.

But won't they make a mess?

Even though it will be the biggest international gathering ever held in Africa, the Johannesburg Summit will leave the host city, Johannesburg, cleaner and greener, organisers promise. The Greening the WSSD Initiative will ensure that the Summit is organised along environmental "best practice" lines and that the thousands of delegates expected to descend on Johannesburg generate minimal waste. (See for more information.)

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