3 minute read


Global Environmental Efforts

From the beginning, American conservation ideas, informed by the science of ecology, and the practice of resource management on public lands, spread to other countries and regions. In recent decades, however, the rhetoric of conservation has taken a prominent role in international development and affairs, and the United States Government has taken a back-seat role in global environmental policy. United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are some of today's most visible international conservation organizations.

The international community first convened in 1972 at the UN Conference on Earth and Environment in Stockholm to discuss global environmental concerns. UNEP was established at the Stockholm Convention. In 1980, the IUCN published a document entitled the World Conservation Strategy, dedicated to helping individual countries, including developing nations, plan for the maintenance and protection of their soil, water, forests, and wildlife. A continuation and update of this theme appeared in 1987 with the publication of the UN World Commission on Environment and Development's book, Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report. The idea of sustainable development, with its vision of ecologically balanced, conservation-oriented economic development, was introduced in this 1987 paper and has gone on to become a dominant ideal in international development programs.

In 1992, world leaders gathered at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development to discuss some of the issues set forth in the Brundtland Report. The Rio "Earth Summit" painted a grim picture of global environmental problems like global climate change, resource depletion, and pollution. The Rio summit inspired a number of ratified agreements designed to tackle some of these seemingly intractable issues, including stratospheric ozone depletion by man-made chemicals with the 1987 Montreal Protocol, and mitigation of possible global climate change caused by industrial emissions with the 2002 Kyoto Protocol.

The International community has tempered its philosophy of conservation since the 1992 Rio Summit. Sustainable development, a philosophy very similar to Pinchot's original conservation ideal, was the catch-phrase for the United Nation's 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. The 1992 Rio summit produced a laundry list of grim environmental problems: global warming, the ozone hole, biodiversity and habitat loss, deforestation, marine resource depletion, and suggested an "either-or" decision between economic development and environmental solutions. The 2002 Earth Summit, however, focused on international regulations that address environmental problems: water and air quality, accessibility of food and water, sanitation, agricultural productivity, and land management, that often accompany the human population's most pressing social issues: poverty, famine, disease, and war. Furthermore, new strategies for coping with environmental issues involve providing economic incentives to provide for the common good instead of punishing non-compliant governments and corporations.



Fox, S. John Muir and His Legacy: The American Conservation Movement. Boston: Little, Brown, 1981.

Marsh, G.P. Man and Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965 (originally 1864).

Meine, C. Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.

Pinchot, G. Breaking New Ground. Washington, DC: Island Press, 1987 (originally 1947).


Kluger, Jefferey, and Andrea Dorfman. "The Challenges We Face." Special Report: "How to Preserve the Planet and Make this a Green Century." Time Magazine (August 26, 2002): A1-A60.


United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development. "Johannesburg Summit 2002." Johannesburg, South Africa. December 12, 2002 [cited January 7, 2003]. <http://www.johannesburgsummit.org/>.

United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. "Caring for the Land and Serving People." January 6, 2003 [cited January 7, 2003]. <http://www.fs.fed.us/>.

Mary Ann Cunningham

Laurie Duncan

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to CoshConservation - Conservationist Movement Founded, Global Environmental Efforts