Economic and Social Council
22 January 1997
COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
7-25 April 1997
Overall progress achieved since the United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development
Report of the Secretary-General
Changing consumption patterns*
(Chapter 4 of Agenda 21)
INTRODUCTION ............................................... 1 2
I. KEY OBJECTIVES ....................................... 2 - 3 2
II. PROGRESS ACHIEVED .................................... 4 - 23 4
III. PROMISING CHANGES .................................... 24 - 33 10
IV. UNFULFILLED EXPECTATIONS ............................. 34 - 38 12
V. EMERGING PRIORITIES .................................. 39 - 48 13
* The report was prepared by the United Nations Department for Policy
Coordination and Sustainable Development (DPCSD) as task manager for chapter 4
of Agenda 21, in accordance with arrangements agreed to by the Inter-Agency
Committee on Sustainable Development (IACSD). It is the result of consultation
and information exchange between United Nations agencies, international and
national organizations, interested government agencies and a range of other
institutions and individuals.
1.This report reviews progress made in the implementation of the objectives set
out in chapter 4 of Agenda 21 (Changing consumption and production patterns),1/
taking into account the decisions taken by the Commission on Sustainable
Development on this subject at its second, third and fourth sessions. The issue
of consumption and production patterns in the context of sustainable development
first received full recognition at the United Nations Conference on Environment
and Development in 1992. Chapter 4 of Agenda 21 addresses many issues at the
heart of environment and development policy-making. They include product
policy, new concepts of economic growth and prosperity, efficient use of natural
resources, reducing emissions and waste, environmentally sound pricing, and
Box 1. Changing consumption and production patterns, since the
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development,
as seen at other United Nations conferences
Population and Development (Cairo, 1994). Development strategies must
realistically reflect the short-, medium-, and long-term implications of, and
consequences for, population dynamics and patterns of production and
consumption. To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life
for all people, Governments should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns
of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.
Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995). Poverty and
environmental degradation are closely related. While poverty results in
certain kinds of environmental stress, the major cause of the continued
deterioration in the global environment is unsustainable patterns of
consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries.
Habitat II (Istanbul, June 1996). Consumption patterns in human
settlements should be adjusted to the needs of resource protection, with more
attention given to strategies for a life-cycle economy. The internal
structures of cities should be corrected. Industrialized countries have to
recognize that their urban lifestyles, patterns of production and consumption
are a major part of the global environmental problem.
World Food Summit (Rome, 1996). Individuals and households have a key
role in decisions and actions affecting their food security. They must be
enabled and encouraged to participate actively, both individually and
collectively, through producers, consumers, and other organizations of civil
I. KEY OBJECTIVES
2. Of the five objectives identified in chapter 4, two are directed towards
the international community and three are directed towards the development of
national policies and strategies to encourage changes in consumption and
3. Objectives directed towards the international community are:
(a) To promote patterns of consumption and production that reduce
environmental stress and will meet the basic needs of humanity;
(b) To develop a better understanding of the role of consumption and how
to bring about more sustainable consumption patterns.
Objectives directed more towards the national level are:
(a) To promote efficiency in production processes and reduce wasteful
consumption in the process of economic growth, taking into account the
development needs of developing countries;
(b) To develop a domestic policy framework that will encourage a shift to
more sustainable patterns of production and consumption;
(c) To reinforce both values that encourage sustainable consumption and
production patterns and policies that encourage the transfer of environmentally
sound technologies to developing countries.
Box 2. The unsustainable pattern of consumption and production,
particularly in industrialized countries: some trends
Over the past 45 years the global economy has nearly quintupled.
Consumption of grain, beef and water has tripled, while paper use has risen
six times. The use of fossil fuels has grown fourfold, as have CO2 emissions.
Since 1950, and reflecting differences in per capita incomes, the richest
fifth has doubled its per capita consumption of energy, meat, timber, steel
and copper, and quadrupled its car ownership. The per capita consumption of
the poorest fifth has hardly increased.
The OECD countries account for 44.7 per cent of global total CO2
emissions. The emissions continue to increase and reflect the growth in
industrialized societies. Increasing numbers of people in developing
countries, in particular in several major developing economies, are beginning
to approximate consumption patterns similar to the middle-income classes in
developed countries. Those consumers roughly total 750 million, almost as
many as the 850 million consumers in the industrialized countries.
Sources: Brown, L. R. and others (1996). State of the World 1996 (New York:
Norton); Durning, A. T. (1996). This Place on Earth: Home and the Practice
of Permane (Seattle: Sasqautch Books); Myers, N. (1997). Consumption in
relation to population, environment and development. The Environmentalist (In
press); United Nations (1996). The World Population Prospects: the 1996
Revision. Annex I: Demographic indicators (to be issued); World Resources
Institute, World Resources 1996-97 (New York: Oxford University Press).
II. PROGRESS ACHIEVED
A. International efforts to promote patterns of consumption
and production that reduce environmental stress and will
meet the basic needs of humanity
4. Several international agreements which have been reached or in the context
of which further progress has been made since the Conference and which entail
changing consumption and production patterns now cover such issues as phasing
out ozone-depleting substances, stabilizing and eventually reducing greenhouse-
gas emissions, prohibiting the exportation of hazardous waste, reducing
emissions of land-based sources of marine pollution, phasing out lead in
gasoline, and managing international fisheries. Progress has also been made in
advancing discussions on sustainable forest management. Each of these areas is
extensively discussed in reports on other chapters of Agenda 21.
Box 3. The international work programme on changing
production and consumption patterns
At its session in 1995, the Commission on Sustainable Development agreed
on an international work programme on the issue of changing production and
consumption patterns. The work programme builds on the elements of the Action
Programme adopted at the Oslo Ministerial Roundtable Conference on Sustainable
Production and Consumption (6-10 February, Oslo). It has five main elements
and is in its first year of implementation. The elements are:
(a) Identifying the policy implications of projected trends in
consumption and production patterns;
(b) Assessing the impact on developing countries, especially the least
developed countries and small island developing States, of changes in
consumption and production in developed countries;
(c) Evaluating the effectiveness of policy measures intended to change
consumption and production patterns, such as command-and-control, economic and
social instruments, governmental procurement policies and guidelines;
(d) Eliciting time-bound voluntary commitments from countries to make
measurable progress on those sustainable development goals that have an
especially high priority at the national level;
(e) Revising the guidelines for consumer protection.
B. Developing a better understanding of the role of consumption
and how to bring about more sustainable consumption patterns
5. The issue of changing consumption and production patterns has figured
prominently on the international policy-making agenda. Some countries, such as
Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, Norway and the Republic of Korea have
fulfilled a leadership role in facilitating and developing the international
debate on the issue. International organizations (e.g., the Organisation for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Environment
Programme (UNEP)), business and industry groups (e.g., World Business Council
for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)), the academic community and many
non-governmental organizations have been active in taking up specific tasks and
responsibilities and have been instrumental for the progress achieved.
6. Several United Nations agencies and other international organizations,
Governments, non-governmental organizations and academics have initiated
activities on the identification of indicators for sustainability, the
"greening" of current gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of progress,
genuine savings indicators, measures of environmental debt, and the further
operationalization of concepts such as eco-space, ecological footprints, and
ecological rucksacks. Many of these approaches and tools have contributed to
policy-making over the past five years, in particular with regard to the
integration of environment and development in socio-economic policy (chapter 8
of Agenda 21) and as improved information in decision-making processes
(chapter 40 of Agenda 21). The work on changing consumption and production
patterns over the past five years has resulted in a consensus that the most
promising and cost-effective policy strategies are those that aim at cost
internalization and improved efficiency in resource and energy use.
7. Significant progress has also been achieved in increasing an understanding
of the nature of environmental problems and the interlinkages between economic
and environmental policy-making, at the sectoral level, inter alia. Good
examples are the studies on the transport and energy sectors, in the context of
the Framework Convention on Climate Change, by OECD and the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA), the recent study on the sustainable paper cycle, 2/ the
first comprehensive life-cycle analysis of a large industrial sector, by the
International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and the report
on comprehensive assessment of freshwater resources, 3/ prepared for the
Commission at its fifth session.
8. A focus on changing consumption and production patterns is especially
useful for integrating environmental and economic factors, for focusing on the
demand side as well as the supply side of the economy, and for highlighting the
need for policy measures that affect the behaviour of a large number of
producers and consumers. It is recognized that measures which internalize
environmental costs are important for changing behaviour. But those measures
need to be accompanied by others that facilitate or magnify the responses.
Thus, a list of policy options would include regulatory instruments, economic
incentives and disincentives, social incentives and disincentives, facilities
and infrastructure, information and education, and technology development and
Box 4. Cost internalization in the production of
Malaysian palm oil
Organic wastes from the mills of the crude palm oil industry used to be
the worst source of water pollution in Malaysia. Since 1977 effluent control
in the industry has been carried out through a licensing system stipulating
effluent discharge standards for each licence holder. Standards have been
made stricter over time. Licence fees for high-effluent discharge plants,
emitting above standard, were more costly than the flat-rate fees for plants
emitting below standard - e.g., for biochemical oxygen demand (bod) loads.
Both the Government and industry developed pollution-abatement technologies
and stimulated their dissemination. The Palm Oil Research Institute of
Malaysia was established. This mix of regulatory, economic and social
instruments resulted in a decrease in pollution of 99 per cent (bod loads)
over a period of seven years.
Source: Khalid, A. R. (1995). "Internalisation of environmental
externalities: the Malaysian experience", paper presented at the UNCTAD
Expert Group Meeting on Internalization of Environmental Externalities,
Geneva, 13-14 February 1995.
9. Methods to achieve greater resource and energy efficiency in production
processes have been further developed by business and industry. Eco-efficiency
and the related concept of industrial ecology, which aims to close the
production cycle for polluting substances by using them as inputs in other
industries, have become common in discussions on sound environmental management.
Research by the academic community and non-governmental organizations has
demonstrated that increases in efficiency by a factor of 4 can be achieved with
currently available technology and knowledge. Efficiency improvements by a
factor of 10 by the year 2025 might be necessary in order to achieve a minimally
satisfactory degree of environmental sustainability.
10. It has also been recognized and emphasized over the years that cost
internalization and eco-efficiency approaches are most effectively and
efficiently implemented in combination with specific time-bound targets and
Box 5. Practising eco-efficiency
Xerox has adopted a new system of product stewardship. Copy cartridges
that were disposable when first introduced are now being replaced by
cartridges that are taken apart and have their components recycled. This form
of product stewardship introduces "life cycle" concepts and makes
manufacturers, along with suppliers and consumers, responsible participants in
the cradle-to-grave cycle of products.
In 1995 Sony introduced "Green TVs" which contain recyclable materials,
disassembly characteristics, plastics that are reduced in both type and
variety, and halogen-free flame retardant materials. As a result the weight
and cost of the television sets have been significantly reduced, while use of
hazardous substances during production has been eliminated.
Dow Chemicals implemented energy savings and waste-reduction measures
which yielded a rate of return, on a relatively small investment, averaging
over 200 per cent per year.
Sources: Fussler, C. (1996). Driving Eco-Innovation: A Breakthrough
Discipline for Innovation and Sustainability (London, Pitman); Lovins, A. B.
(1996). Megawatts: twelve transitions, eight improvements and one
distraction. Energy Policy, vol. 24, No. 4.
11. It is now also recognized that differences in levels of per capita resource
use among and within countries primarily reflect disparities in per capita
incomes and are thus linked to national policies and international cooperation
intended to accelerate economic growth and combat poverty, especially in
developing countries, underlining the importance of developed countries
fulfilling their commitments to official development assistance (ODA). To the
extent that such policies succeed in causing per capita incomes gradually to
converge over time, per capita resource use would tend to increase at both the
country and world levels and associated environmental problems, to worsen.
Achieving or maintaining environmental sustainability will thus require all
countries in line with their own national priorities progressively to adopt more
sustainable consumption and production patterns.
12. A reorientation of governmental policy-making and the fact that environment
and development policy-making on changing consumption patterns is gradually
shifting to implementation and a more action-oriented approach have directly
resulted in the recognition of the need for a stronger role for actors such as
business and industry, trade unions, international organizations and
non-governmental organizations. Increasingly, responsibilities have been
defined for the major actors, such as local authorities, business, trade unions
and national Governments.
C. Promoting efficiency in production processes and reducing
wasteful consumption in the process of economic growth,
taking into account the development needs of developing
13. The combination of consumer and technology-driven changes in economic
structures, the effects of national environmental policies, and the spreading of
environmental awareness have resulted in measurable - although inadequate -
progress in the achievement of this objective. In most developed countries and
for this grouping as a whole, material and energy intensity of production and
the carbon intensity of energy have continued to decline. As a result, the rate
of growth of emissions of CO2 has slowed, although absolute amounts continue to
increase. Emissions of ozone-depleting substances, and releases of lead are
falling; emissions of SO2 and the release of hazardous wastes to environmental
media and of pollutants to freshwater are also falling, although they are still
considered far too high. The volume of municipal wastes discharged to landfills
continues to increase, although its rate of growth has been dramatically
reduced. The growth rates of certain emissions associated primarily with the
transport sector, such as NOx, and VOC have also slowed greatly, and the
absolute volumes appear to have nearly stabilized. They are still, however, far
too high compared to their environmental and health costs. An increasing number
of developing countries and economies in transition have made progress in
respect of this objective. Indeed, in some of them, because of technological
leap-frogging, annual pollution levels and resource intensity in some sectors
are lower than they were in industrial countries at a similar level of
development. (More extensive appraisals on all of these issues are to be found
in concise reports on other chapters of Agenda 21).
14. Increased efficiency in production has been achieved through various policy
tools and measures. Much policy-making has focused on products. There have
been two important aspects in product policy: first, the further shift towards
demand management strategies by Governments, accompanied by the enhanced power
of the consumer to support or avoid products on environmental grounds, taking
into account their production and process methods; and secondly, the growth in
interest for new and innovative instruments related to producer responsibility.
Among other things, these approaches require producers to supply adequate
information in response to consumer demands and to make provision for the
maintenance and/or final disposal of the product. In this regard the ISO 14000
series and the Eco-management and Audit System (EMAS) certification processes
for environmental management systems are stimulating more sustainable production
15. Policy development is increasingly benefiting from life-cycle analysis.
The integrated life-cycle analysis approach emphasizes that resource production
and consumption is a multistage process, with each stage associated with certain
types of environmental degradation. Each stage should be regarded as an
integral part of a whole interrelated process, with changes at one stage
yielding effects at other stages. For instance, establishing manufacturers'
responsibility for some aspects of disposal at the end of product life-cycles
may influence design of the product and packaging material, thus integrating
waste avoidance into the production process. Examples of such policies in
European countries include the packaging legislation pioneered in Germany,
take-back requirements, and deposit/refund schemes, such as the deposit to be
paid when buying a new car (implemented in the Netherlands) and refunded once
the car is at the end of its life-span.
D. Developing a domestic policy framework that will
encourage a shift to more sustainable patterns
of production and consumption
16. Since the Conference, the policy framework has been further developed both
in terms of content and process. Studies and workshops have been undertaken by
several countries interested in defining and scoping the debate on consumption
and production patterns. Among the most instrumental in making progress with
regard to the development of a policy framework were the two Oslo Ministerial
Roundtables on sustainable production and consumption. In addition, OECD, for
example, initiated a discussion on the available and most relevant concepts and
strategies for policy development.
17. Also since the Conference, most countries have set up national commissions
on sustainable development or national round tables to discuss national policies
intended to achieve more sustainable development. These commissions often
function as a platform, involving major stakeholders in society, providing input
in national decision-making processes on environment and development policy-
making. The commissions often report on progress to their Governments, the
Commission or the Earth Council. 4/
E. Reinforcing both values that encourage sustainable
consumption and production patterns and policies
that encourage the transfer of environmentally sound
technologies to developing countries
18. Shifts in the values on which consumers and producers base decisions can be
widely observed. The continuing rise in the application of eco-labels
illustrates a growing demand for products that are environmentally sound and
safe for human health and safety. Consumers, especially in the developed
countries, are demanding more environmentally friendly and "fairly" produced
products from developing countries.
19. Initiatives from many environmental non-governmental organizations are
targeted at influencing the behaviour of consumers in their daily lives. The
Sustainable Europe campaign, through a continuing process of preparing reports
on sustainability for the European countries, is informing consumers and
producers about the impacts of their lifestyles and about the changes that are
needed in order to make consumption patterns more sustainable.
20. Citizen participation programmes such as the eco-team programme of the
non-governmental organization Global Action Plan (GAP) are increasingly being
adopted at the community level and have a significant impact on changing
individuals' lifestyles towards more sustainable patterns.
21. The Commission on Sustainable Development recognized at its session in 1996
that the role of the media and advertising may have a significant impact on the
values of citizens. Additional work needs to be done, however, on how the media
and advertising industry can help support changes in current patterns of
consumption and make them more sustainable.
22. The Brazil/Norway Workshop on Consumption and Production Patterns
(Brasilia, November 1996) concluded, among other things, that the role of
advertising and the media is critical; that the international community should
apply the resources of the media to induce behavioural changes to avoid waste,
inefficient resource use and conspicuous consumption; and that positive messages
of how individuals can live in a sustainable manner were required, instead of
encouraging ever-rising material consumption or exaggerating the likelihood of
23. Issues related to the transfer of environmentally sound technologies are
discussed in the concise report on chapter 34 of Agenda 21
III. PROMISING CHANGES
24. The most promising changes and developments can be observed in the
increased participation of non-governmental organizations, business, trade
unions, local authorities and the academic community in the implementation of
Agenda 21 - in particular, the ongoing efforts of the non-governmental
organization and academic communities to promote sustainable lifestyles, the
business initiatives furthering the development and implementation of
eco-efficiency, the pro-active role that local authorities and trade unions play
in mobilizing public and stakeholder participation, and the responsibilities
taken up by international organizations to facilitate North/South, East/West
cooperation and further to promote cleaner production and sustainable
Box 6. Eco-taxes in Europe
According to a recent report of the European Environment Agency, the
continuing use of environmental taxes over the past decade, has accelerated in
the past 5-6 years. The report finds that the taxes have been environmentally
effective, and seem to have achieved their environmental objectives at
reasonable cost. Examples of successful taxes are tax differentials on leaded
fuel (e.g., Sweden), taxes on toxic waste (e.g., Germany), and water pollution
charges (e.g., Netherlands).
Source: European Environment Agency (1996). Environmental Taxes:
Implementation and Environmental Effectiveness. Environmental Issues Series
No. 1. Copenhagen.
25. Participants in the GAP eco-team programme, for example, have reduced usage
of water, on average, by 25 per cent, fuel use for transport by 16 per cent
(with related reductions in CO2 emissions), and produced 42 per cent less
26. Governments are increasingly adding demand-side management to policy-making
in order to influence actors on the supply side, the producers. In addition,
there is an increasing use of mixes of regulatory, economic and social
instruments to achieve certain policy objectives.
27. One of the most promising approaches is the use of emission-trading schemes
in several countries. Active consideration is now being given to how an
international scheme for emission-trading for CO2 and SO2 might be implemented.
28. Some key transnational corporations and WBCSD, among others, have made
considerable progress in making eco-efficiency operational, reducing the
material and energy intensity per unit produced and improving profitability.
UNEP, in cooperation with Governments and the business community, has played an
important role in exploring viable business strategies for cleaner production
and eco-efficiency in developed and developing countries.
29. In the area of enhancing the environmental performance of Governments,
international organizations and certain countries have undertaken promising
initiatives over the past several years, e.g., the OECD Council recommendation
on improving the environmental performance of government. In many countries,
greater priority is being given to governmental purchasing as a component of
30. Promising changes can be observed in the environmental programmes developed
and implemented by local authorities. Innovative ideas about public
participation, community development and making operational local Agenda 21s are
being piloted and demonstrated. The International Council for Local
Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) has played a significant role in facilitating
these activities at the local level. 5/
31. Product-oriented policies have matured over the past five years, and
promising results include consumer information (including eco-labels) on
environmentally preferable and "fair trade" products, extended producer
responsibility, take-back requirements, the involvement of the retail sector,
and continued efforts in the areas of life-cycle management, eco-design,
materials substitutions, and enhanced durability. For example, Swedish
consumers buy up half of the European Union's imported pesticide-free bananas;
Germany's baby food products will soon have entirely organic sources; some 4,000
Mexican farmers are producing organically grown coffee; and some major
companies, such as Patagonia, are turning towards organically grown cotton and
recycled materials in the production of their clothing. Electric cars
(EV1 Saturn (United States) and Tulip-project Citroen (France)) are on the
market, waste-streams are being turned into input resources, life-cycle studies
are being conducted for specific industries (paper, IIED/WBCSD), and business is
increasingly becoming aware of the fact that an environmentally sound image is
an essential aspect of solid company practice and a quality check for the
Box 7. Eco-labelling
At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development,
eco-labelling was considered primarily in the context of changing consumption
patterns. In the period since the Conference, eco-labelling criteria have
been of particular interest because of their trade implications. Although
eco-labels can improve the quality and transparency of environmental
information about some products, they may also serve as disguised
protectionist behaviour. The work under way in the International Organisation
for Standardization and the World Trade Organization (WTO) may help to
minimize such concerns.
Eco-labels are increasingly being used on national and regional levels.
The Nordic countries, for example, have had an eco-label, the "Nordic Swan",
since 1989. The vast majority of the labels are in different categories of
paper products, sometimes enjoying market shares of up to 30 per cent. It was
found that over a five-year period of implementation, the labels significantly
influenced consumers' purchasing patterns and the production methods of
producers participating in the scheme.
Source: Nordic Council of Ministers (1996). The Use of Economic Instruments
in Nordic Environmental Policy (Copenhagen: Nordic Publishing House).
32. More attention is being given to environmental considerations in the design
of a wide variety of goods, services and infrastructure. Increasingly designers
incorporate aspects such as future disposal and recycling into the design of
products. Physical planners and architects have shown great innovation in the
design of cities, infrastructure, buildings and houses, taking into
consideration elements such as quality of life, resource efficiency,
accessibility, durability and living environment.
33. Another promising change is the increasing role of the service industry in
general. In industrialized countries there is a trend emerging in the
substitution of goods for services that are more environmentally friendly.
Business and industry are increasingly stressing the service offered with the
purchase of a product (see also box 5). The ongoing developments in the area of
telecommunications can play an important role in intensifying this trend.
IV. UNFULFILLED EXPECTATIONS
34. The positive developments mentioned in sections II and III have been
largely offset by larger volumes of production. Consequently, many natural
resource and pollution problems persist or continue to worsen. The car industry
has, for example, produced cleaner and more efficient cars; however, the growth
in the number of vehicles has offset the positive environmental effects of that
development. Similarly, significant results have been achieved in waste
reduction, through, in particular, waste prevention programmes, but total
volumes of waste produced have been growing in many countries of OECD.
35. A cause for grave concern is rising CO2 emissions. Governments in
industrialized countries have not been able to achieve previous commitments and
identified targets. Further, changing relevant consumption and production
patterns will need additional efforts and activities in policy-making.
36. In spite of the fact that important results have been achieved in the area
of policy integration, many governmental policies in sectors such as
agriculture, economics, finance, trade, communications, tourism, energy and
transport do not adequately reflect an appreciation of how they shape
consumption and production patterns. Evaluation of policies in terms of
effectiveness, efficiency, and equity in these sectors in respect of the
objective of sustainable development needs to be strengthened.
37. The call for environmentally sound pricing - efficient cost
internalization - was renewed at the Conference, but little progress has been
made. Governments shy away from additional eco-taxes and environmental
regulations that intend to incorporate the cost of environmental protection into
products and services offered in the marketplace. Examples of such policies
include carbon taxes, environmental tax reform and subsidy removal,
international eco-labelling schemes, standards for products, management, and
performance (e.g., ISO, EMAS), and extended producer responsibility and
38. Developed countries have also failed to provide sufficient finance and
technological and other forms of support to enable developing countries to
accelerate their own transition towards more sustainable consumption and
production patterns. 6/
V. EMERGING PRIORITIES
39. An ongoing priority is the further implementation of the Commission's
international work programme on changing consumption and production patterns.
The work programme, agreed by the Commission at its third session, is in its
first year of implementation. Some of the activities initiated include the
identification of a "core-set" of indicators to measure changes in consumption
and production patterns, a case study on trade opportunities for developing
countries due to changes in consumption and production patterns in
industrialized countries, and the development of a database on new and
innovative instruments intended to make consumption patterns more sustainable.
In addition, the revision of the guidelines for consumer protection is under
way, and the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development of
the United Nations Secretariat, in close cooperation with international
organizations, non-governmental organizations (in particular, Consumers
International), and other major groups, has embarked on the task of preparing
additional draft guidelines addressing sustainable consumption.
40. Changing consumption and production patterns is increasingly recognized in
the international policy-making arena as an important issue. Since the
Conference, the emphasis of international and national efforts has been on
increasing understanding and policy development. An emerging priority, also
reflected in a Commission decision taken in 1996, is the need for a more action-
oriented approach, focused on the implementation of policies. This implies a
continued and strengthened cooperation between actors, in developed and
developing countries, in particular those with responsibilities for
41. Some key challenges that can be highlighted for Governments and business
and industry are:
(a) To adopt more widely eco-efficiency strategies in developed and
developing countries and countries with economies in transition;
(b) To enhance self-regulation, managing the responsibilities and
privileges of some of the key actors in the process of sustainability, such as
business and industry and regional and local authorities.
42. For Governments, international organizations and non-governmental
organizations, it is important:
(a) To assess the most efficient and effective policy instruments and
mixes of instruments in order to achieve a higher degree of cost internalization
(b) To increase understanding of the key determining factors in the
behaviour of consumers, in particular in the areas of transport and energy;
(c) To further stimulate social and technological innovation;
(d) To pursue the integration of sustainable development in the heart of
(e) To assess the scope for environmental tax reform and subsidy removal,
in order to remove distorted prices, stimulate development, encourage employment
and reduce pollution and resource use;
(f) As consumers themselves, to help shape markets through better
understanding of their use of goods and services and incorporating environmental
criteria into procurement policies.
43. For business, in cooperation with Governments and non-governmental
organizations, it is important:
(a) To find new ways of satisfying consumer requirements at the lowest
environmental cost, in particular the further substitution of goods for
(b) To put cleaner production and eco-efficiency into operation. Where
possible, these strategies should be applied in combination with time-bound
targets and objectives.
44. For non-governmental organizations, in cooperation with Governments and
business, the goal should be:
(a) To foster North/South and East/West dialogue and international
networks on changing consumption and production patterns;
(b) To develop and propose concrete action at all levels of policy-making;
(c) To continue to strengthen education and training on sustainable
"consumption values" and lifestyles;
(d) To educate and assist citizens to participate in decision-making on
policies intended to change consumption and production patterns.
45. The upcoming period will provide important lessons learned from the
implementation of policies. The exchange of examples of best practice should
provide a further stimulus for governmental action.
46. The deep-seated nature of many of the issues requires new forms of
international cooperation between and among Governments, international
organizations and actors in civil society on questions such as resource-pricing,
technology, trade, environmental regulation and management systems. The results
of the recent bilateral initiative of Norway and Brazil illustrate that there is
a commonality of interests between developed and developing countries on many
issues related to changing consumption and production patterns.
47. Future discussions in the Commission may be most fruitful in a framework in
which approaches to changing policy on consumption and production patterns can
be explored within such major economic sectors as energy, transport, forestry,
tourism, and agriculture. Such a framework would facilitate the increasing
focus on implementation and the need for a more action-oriented approach.
48. Changing consumption and production patterns does not imply a decline in
living standards or quality of life. It calls for a reorientation - not merely
consuming less, but consuming differently. Following the industrial revolution
and the telecommunications revolutions, the third wave of progress in world
society will be marked by sustainable consumption patterns that ensure
prosperity, improve the quality of life, and provide equitable access to
education, health and safety, and a high-quality environment.
1/ Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development,
vol. I, Resolutions Adopted by the Conference (United Nations publication, Sales
No. E.93.I.8 and corrigendum), resolution 1, annex II.
2/ Towards a Sustainable Paper Cycle (London: International Institute for
Environment and Development, 1996).
4/ See also E/CN.17/1997/2/Add.7.
5/ See also E/CN.17/1997/2/Add.22 and 26.
6/ See E/CN.17/1997/2/Add.1, 23 and 24.
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Date last posted: 10 December 1999 17:25:35
Comments and suggestions: DESA/DSD