How did we get here? A timeline of historical environmental development.

CRS Trends  »  Climate action   »   How did we get here? A timeline of historical environmental development.

There was a time, not long ago, when climate change meant little to countries, companies, organizations and individuals alike. Nowadays, however, it seems rather clear that this phenomenon has been ongoing for longer than the concept has been popularized. The biggest consequence of such late awareness is probably the lack of effective preventive measures, as they all seem to be a little overdue. 

The world as it stands today seems to point towards many ‘’too little, too late’’ action plans and agreements that never seem to finalize or offer real solutions. And although it is true that international cooperation is complex to say the least, much of the engagement needed might have been pushed back because of a lack of understanding, not only for countries and territories, but for all social actors impacting the world and its climate. But how did we get here? 

Here we have set ourselves to analyze, assess and try to understand how environmental action, cooperation and law have evolved in the last years, culminating in an international agenda marked by irreversible effects of climate change and an urgent need for a shift towards sustainable development. 


A timeline of historical environmental development


We can talk about three eras in international historical environmental development, marked by two distinct events in the fight for a sustainable future. On the one hand we have the traditional era, prior to the 1972 Stockholm Convention, followed by the modern era; and finally, after the Rio Declaration in 1992, we find the postmodern era. 


Resource management


Firstly, in order to understand that which occurred during the traditional era we must take into consideration how this period of time was heavily influenced by pre and post 1945 events. Additionally, this era is particularly characterized by resource management and the need to preserve resources for solely economic and social development purposes. 

We find ourselves in a context where environmental concerns were rather new to the international agenda, in fact, practically non-existent until the emergence of the United Nations following the failed League of Nations. In this context, for almost 25 years, actions concerning the climate were very limited and when approaching environmental issues the main context was that of the adequacy of natural resources necessary for economic and social development, but no attention was given to conservation efforts. 



Prevention and protection


When it comes to the modern era, the focus started shifting towards preventive measures given the growing understanding of environmental issues, in fact, it wasn’t until 1972 that the first Earth Summit took place in Stockholm, Sweden setting out the principles for preservation and enhancement of the environment. It was also the first time that the issue of climate change was raised in an international setting, making governments aware of the matter and mindful of their actions if the climate damage trend kept growing. 

Over the next 20 years climate change remained on the background of concerns, however, plans were set out to monitor and evaluate the long term effects of air pollutants, expressing concerns for the first time about the ozone layer which culminated in the 1985 Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. Meanwhile, crucial evidence of climate change due to air pollutants began emerging, for example, the acid rain phenomena in Europe and North America. 

In 1987 the UN General Assembly adopted the Environmental Perspective to the Year 2000 and Beyond, a framework directed to help national action and international cooperation for the environment, introducing the notion of sustainable development for the first time. Nevertheless, the document still did not make climate change a central issue. A year later, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was established , recognizing climate change as an specific and urgent issue and helping push forward the first global significant efforts to help mitigate it. 



Climate change and sustainable development


Last but not least, the postmodern era is not only characterized by the popularization and widespread of climate change, but it is a time where environmental knowledge shifted the conversation towards increasingly specific issues in need of action. For example, the once presumed balance of nature was rapidly replaced by an ecosystem approach, and an overall trend of diversification and pluralism, basically giving a more holistic view to environmental concerns. 

In 1992 the UN Conference on Environment and Development took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, focusing on the importance of seeking international agreements and environmental cooperation; it has become one of the most important international actions thus far on climate change with 158 signing countries. The most significant event of the conference was the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which began talks for a protocol that would contain stronger commitment for developed countries. And so in December 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, aiming to reduce industrialized countries’ overall emissions of GHG. It eventually came into force in 2005 with 160 signing parties. 

But perhaps the most important events that almost seem to mark the beginning of a new era is that of the Millennium Declaration and the subsequent Sustainable Development Goals aiming to complete and encourage that which the Millennium Declaration fell short of achieving. 



The principle of sustainable development


The concept of sustainable development is the cornerstone of today’s environmental concerns, focusing not only on the protection of our planet, but on the intergenerational justice of allowing future generations to live in a healthy environment. 

This principle stems from the fact that mankind has always interfered with nature with and without any consideration of the effects of such, understanding that the growing risks of this way of going about our lives affects present and future generations. 

Intergenerational justice is a complex form of justice that needs to be followed with adequate norms and standards that as we have seen before, have been developing for years. Sustainable development reflects a global community that has reached the conclusion that economic development needs to be reconciled with the environment. 


Transparency and engagement for sustainable development


In DoGood we believe that it is precisely through engaging with all stakeholders that we can enhance the value of our project and help pave the way to a more healthy and sustainable future. We want to serve as a benchmark for improvement and building of a strategy by prioritizing transparency and measurable information in order to bring light to the scope of the environmental responsibility and sustainability performance of an organization.

In this regard, it is essential to our work to promote good corporate governance, meaning that the processes of disclosure and transparency are followed so as to provide regulators and shareholders as well as the general public with precise and accurate information about the financial, operational and other aspects of the company, including a more accurate definition of the ESG performance.

We have developed a corporate government tool that helps establish ESG impact objectives for employees in regards to the sustainability strategy of the company. Through our technology we are able to activate and track employees’ impact, creating engagement that translates into improved ESG metrics, reputational value and an overall positive impact for the environment and society. 

If you want to know more about how we work to create a positive social and environmental impact, click here.