In Chapter 1 it was noted that sustainable development and learning are both, separately, of considerable interest to policy makers. However, what is really of 'interest' in particular cases may vary a great deal. This is sometimes, but not always, reflected in the language used. For example, there are those who use the word 'sustainability' as a preferred alternative to 'sustainable development', thus perhaps avoiding perceived connotations of the word 'development' (for example, Huckle, 1996). Also, 'lifelong learning' may be used in such a way as to be distinct from 'education'. Further, both these terms are also often tacitly seen as essentially public-sector concerns, whereas 'training' may be much more a corporate-sector responsibility.
The history of sustainable development policy probably begins with the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. This led to the Stockholm Declaration, and established the issue of environmental management on the global policy agenda. Subsequently, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was set up. The origin of the use of the term 'sustainable development' is often considered to be in the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) - or 'Brundtland Report' - of 1987 (see chapter 11 of the companion reader) though according to Rao (2000) the term had earlier appeared around 1980 in the literature of the World Conservation Union, the IUCN.
In 1992, following a UN resolution in 1989, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was held in Rio de Janeiro. This produced the 'work plan' known as Agenda 21, which has 40 chapters. Chapter 36 of this document (see chapter 2 of the companion reader) specifically concerns 'promoting education, public awareness and training'. It is extremely broad in scope, but identifies three 'programme areas' for learning, in addition to the prerequisite necessity to achieve universal access to education. These programme areas are: (i) reorienting education to sustainable development; (ii) increasing public awareness; and, (iii) promoting training. Other particularly significant consequences of UNCED were the setting up of a UN Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), and impetus towards the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity (1993), and the Framework Convention on Climate Change (1994).