Local Agenda 21: The Pursuit of Sustainable
Development in Subnational Domains
William M. Lafferty
The pursuit of sustainable development at the local and regional level of governance has received a powerful impetus from the follow-up to Chapter 28 of Agenda 21, the “action plan” adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. “Local Agenda 21” (LA21) has become an international symbol for new initiatives for sustainable local and regional communities. With strong support from the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), and the European Commission, Local Agenda 21 is one of the major success stories from the Earth Summit. The purpose of this chapter is to document the growing consensus as to what the idea of a “Local Agenda 21” involves, and to present data and analytical perspectives from a comparative research project sponsored by the European Commission (SUSCOM). The article concludes that, while there is considerable progress toward realizing the intentions of Agenda 21 in this area, there is also an emerging conflict over the nature of LA21 with respect to its oppositional vs. integrationist function in local politics for sustainable development.
One of the most distinctive features of the idea of sustainable development as expressed in the Brundtland Report (WCED 1987) is the need for new forms of social mobilization and decision-making. The achievement of environmental, economic, and social sustainability requires different modes of collective insight and competence than those prevalent in advanced liberal-capitalist societies. This chapter focuses on these requirements that come directly from the Rio action plan, with specific reference to subnational political domains. The chapter reviews the textual and operational basis for Local Agenda 21 (LA21), and provides updated information on the status of LA21