The concept of sustainable development dates back a long way, but it was at the UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972) that the international community met for the first time to consider global environment and development needs together.

The description of sustainable development in Agenda 21 called for a total shift in the status quo of prevalent value systems and institutional processes. Such global change could never have occurred over night. When progress was assessed at Rio+5 (New York, 1997) a number of gaps were identified, particularly with regards to social equity and poverty.