Summary The original aim of this study was to serve as an input for the Regional Preparatory Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 23 and 24 October 2001. This document was produced by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In preparing the study, national preparatory activities and inputs from subregional meetings were taken into account. Those meetings, which were unprecedented in processes of this type, encouraged the countries to play a dynamic role in the preparations and enabled them to identify the main stumbling blocks to progress in this area, as well as the prospects for a future platform of action for sustainable development in the region. A major contribution to the process was also made by civil society through its participation in national sustainable development councils and in meetings held at subregional events, which provided an opportunity for the region's main groupings to air their views. The first part of the document reports on regional economic performance, focusing in particular on economic growth and public finances. It also analyses the relationships and effects of capital flows, economic openness, trade and integration processes. The main trends in social development in the 1990s are then described, with consideration being given to topics such as regional employment, income and land distribution, public social spending and the social challenges to be met as the region works towards sustainable development. Population dynamics and the challenge they pose to governments and societies are also examined, together with the relationship between population, on the one hand, and resources and carrying capacity on the other, regional migration and spatial trends in human settlements. The environmental situation in the region is analysed from the point of view of natural ecosystems, water resources and, in particular, their availability in the region; pollution is considered in relation to its effects on air, water and land, and special attention is given to energy trends in the region and their relationship to global climate change. The socio-environmental vulnerability of the region is then discussed. With regard to the institutional framework, the development of environmental and sustainable development policies are studied, and the stance adopted by the countries in the region in regard to global environmental problems and the multilateral regime of environmental accords is explored. The second part of the document contains more specific proposals and suggests what kind of role the region might play in a global alliance, taking into account the progress that has been made and the remaining challenges, within the framework of the region's own agenda and the global agenda. In the final section, proposals are made for future action, in relation to the opportunities and challenges facing the region in terms of sustainable development. These proposals take the individual characteristics of the countries concerned into account based on an analysis of issues such as the protection and sustainable use of natural ecosystems, biodiversity and access to genetic resources, vulnerability, water and energy management, urban issues and the need to strengthen the institutional underpinnings for a sustainable development process. This document is not intended to provide an exhaustive evaluation of how Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration have been implemented in Latin America and the Caribbean. Instead, it simply seeks to present an overview of the progress made towards sustainable development, particularly the most significant aspects, and an assessment of the challenges and opportunities that should be taken into account with a view to the adoption of future measures, after the Johannesburg Summit.