The Summit brought environment and development issues firmly into the public arena. Along with the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 it led to agreement on two legally binding conventions: the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It also produced a Statement of Forest Principles.

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.