Agenda 21 is a nonbinding program approved in 1992 at the United Nations Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro designed to help developing countries handle pollution, poverty, population growth and the heavy use of the world's natural resources.
The Earth Summit was convened to address environmental concerns and socio-economic development. The 294-page Agenda 21 document was adopted by 178 governments including the United States. President George H. W. Bush signed on to the agreement for the United States.
The stated goal of Agenda 21 is "achieving sustainable development in the 21st century," thus the numeral 21 in the document's title. It strives to help governments meet "the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations."
A relatively small group of those who hold a deep distrust of government believe Agenda 21 is a document that proscribes a so-called "New World Order," one in which a massive central government controls the globe.
One of the most high-profile proponents of this theory is conservative television talk-show host Glenn Beck, who called Agenda 21 a way of promoting "centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth."
"Once they put their fangs into our communities, they'll suck all the blood out of it, and we will not be able to survive. Watch out," Beck told viewers on his Fox News channel program in June 2011.
The right-wing John Birch Society has expressed opposition to Agenda 21 as well. A spokesman for the group told The Missoulian that its position "boils down to control."
"Do we allow an international organization to implement its extreme environmental agenda through innocuous names of sustainability, smart growth, etc., or do we retain the sovereignty that allows us to govern ourselves and decide locally what is best?" the John Birch Society spokesman said.
Key Components of Agenda 21
Agenda 21 was drafted to set out a common vision among the world's governments about the best way to deal with the growing problems of development and population growth, even though the document itself is nonbinding and cannot be enforced by the United Nations.
"Agenda 21 is trying to say that environmental concerns are common concerns of everyone on this planet," Tariq Banuri, director of the United Nations' Division for Sustainable Development, told the watchdog group Meda Matters for America in 2011.
Opposition to Agenda 21
The nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of antigovernment groups in the United States, said Agenda 21 drew scorn from groups on both the extreme left and right of the political spectrum.
"It’s on the radical right that the U.N. plan has become a touchstone of a larger theme that equates environmentalism with totalitarianism and the loss of individual freedom," the Southern Poverty Law Center's Ryan Lenz wrote in the group's spring 2012 Intelligence Report.
But even on the left, groups like Democrats Against U.N. Agenda 21 believe the agreement is responsible for the push in this country toward smart growth, sustainability and high density housing developments.
Writes Democrats Against U.N. Agenda 21:
"In a nutshell, the plan calls for governments to take control of all land use and not leave any of the decision making in the hands of private property owners. It is assumed that people are not good stewards of their land and the government will do a better job if they are in control. Individual rights in general are to give way to the needs of communities as determined by the governing body. Moreover, people should be rounded up off the land and packed into human settlements, or islands of human habitation, close to employment centers and transportation.