Towards a Global Climate Agreement is one of six key themes of the Summit on the Global Agenda, taking place in Abu Dhabi. This timeline, extracted from the World Economic Forum publication Sustainable Consumption: Stakeholder Perspectives, shows how the concept of safeguarding the planet’s resources has evolved through recent history.

  • 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population, Thomas Malthus: In his seminal work, Malthus warned about the implications of an ever increasing population. “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man.”
  • 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment: “In our time, man’s capability to transform his surroundings, if used wisely, can bring to all peoples the benefit of development and the opportunity to enhance the quality of life. Wrongly or heedlessly applied, the same power can do incalculable harm to human beings and human environment.” And further, “To defend and improve the human environment for present and future generations has become an imperative goal for mankind.”
  • 1972 Limits to Growth, commissioned by the Club of Rome: This report proposed that one key element to a sustainable society would be for the world’s people to “moderate not only their demand for children, but also their material lifestyles… To achieve this change would mean that the globe’s people establish their status, derive satisfaction, and challenge themselves with goals other than ever increasing production and ever-accumulating material wealth.”
  • 1987 UN World Commission on Environment and Development: This Commission highlighted imbalances in consumption and the challenge of bringing several billion into the mainstream economy. “Given population growth rates, a five- to tenfold increase in manufacturing output will be needed just to raise developing world consumption of manufactured goods to industrialized world levels by the time population growth rates level off next century.” Later in the report it is pointed out with prescience that, “Perceived needs are socially and culturally determined, and sustainable development requires the promotion of values that encourage consumption standards that are within the bounds of the ecologically possible and to which all can reasonably aspire.”
  • 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development: “The major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries, which is a matter of grave concern, aggravating poverty and imbalances.”
  • 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development: The closing statement called for countries to “Encourage and promote the development of a framework … in support of regional and national initiatives to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production to promote social and economic development within the carrying capacity of ecosystems.”
  • 2003 Launch of the Marrakech Process on Sustainable Consumption and Production: This UN process was launched at the first international expert meeting on the 10-year framework held in Marrakech, Morocco, organized by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Division for Sustainable Development and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). For nearly a decade, a coalition of willing countries has been working to promote sustainable consumption and production, especially through policy guidelines and in emerging economies.
  • 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20): “We adopt the 10-Year Framework of Programmes (10YFP) on sustainable consumption and production … We invite the UN General Assembly … to take any necessary steps to fully operationalize the framework.”12 After nearly a decade of moving ahead without formal agreement by all UN countries, the Marrakech Process 10-year framework is finally adopted as one of the few successes of a controversial Rio+20 Summit.

Image: A plant sprout is seen in the cracked and dry earth in the wide riverbed of the Loire River in western France REUTERS/Stephane Mahe.