But as usual the process proceeded slowly and full of ironies. Protesters outside were having fun, even dancing, whilst demanding food, work and a better environment. Annette Cotter said "If the people who were marching today were inside the meeting room representing our planet, there'd be laughter, fun, dancing, and real action.
Instead of new agreements between governments, the Earth Summit was organized mostly around almost 300 "partnership initiatives". These were to be the key means to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. These are kept in a database of Partnerships for Sustainable Development.
Earth Summit 2002 attendees have been criticized as being hypocritical for providing expensive catered food and drink for dignitaries, a few miles away from starving South Africans. The summit organisers have also been criticised for excluding a variety of organisations and individuals, particularly early founders, who were instrumental in conservation and green history. The summit also excluded critics in the movement who believe the "sustainable development" mantra is being misused in order to greenwash economic development at the expense of long term environmental goals.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, was first held in Stockholm, Sweden, in June 1972, and marked the emergence of international environmental law. The Declaration on the Human Environment also known as the Stockholm Declaration set out the principles for various international environmental issues, including human rights, natural resource management, pollution prevention and the relationship between the environment and development. The conference also led to the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme.
The Brundtland Commission set up by Gro Harlem Brundtland, the pioneer of sustainable development, provided the momentum for first Earth Summit 1992 – the United Nations Conference on Environmental Development (UNCED), that was also headed by Maurice Strong, who had been a prominent member of the Brundtland Commission – and also for Agenda 21.
South Africa's first National Conference on Environment and Development entitled, "Ecologise Politics, Politicise Ecology" was held at the University of the Western Cape in conjunction with the Cape Town Ecology Group and the Western Cape Branch of the World Conference on Religion and Peace in 1991. Prominent persons involved in this conference were Ebrahim Rasool, Cheryl Carolus, Faried Esack, and Julia Martin.