Since 1990, the international community has convened 12 major conferences which have committed Governments to address urgently some of the most pressing problems facing the world today. Taken together, these high profile meetings have achieved a global consensus on the priorities for a new development agenda for the 1990s and beyond. The subsequent chapters of this briefing paper, each dedicated to one of the major conferences, attempt to answer important questions. What problems did these conferences address? What did they accomplish? What actions did they propose? What is the follow-up? Where do we go from here? What is the UN role in the new development agenda proposed by these meetings?
This continuum of conferences represents a remarkable achievement for the United Nations system. Through the conference process the entire international community has come together to agree on shared values, on shared goals and on strategies to achieve them. This effort shows one of the United Nations system's greatest strengths: the ability to move from consciousness-raising to agenda-setting to agreement on action by Member States to follow-up on conference commitments and to effective assistance for the countries that need help in realizing their commitments.
Taken individually, each conference marked the culmination of many months of consultations among Member States, UN experts and non-governmental representatives, who reviewed vast amounts of information and shared a broad spectrum of experiences in child welfare, environmental protection, human rights, the advancement of women, productive employment, reproductive health and urban development, and the links of these to peace, development and human security. Each conference forged agreements on specific issues in a new spirit of global cooperation and purpose. Every meeting has demonstrated the universality of concern regarding the issues in question.
All were convened with the strong support of the UN General Assembly, currently the voice of 185 Member States, and the recognition that the end of the cold war presented the opportunity - indeed, the necessity - to revitalize international cooperation on development issues. All addressed problems of a global magnitude which Member States recognized had grown beyond their individual capacities to solve and which needed a concerted international effort. All of them reflect the work of Member States and a growing number of other actors in the field of international development, particularly non-governmental organizations (NGOs). All of them actively sought out media attention, capturing the imaginations of millions of people around the world and greatly enhancing awareness and understanding of the issues in the public at large.