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The Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States has its roots in the UNCED preparatory process. Participants at the third meeting of the UNCED Preparatory Committee expressed considerable interest in the problems facing small island developing States and requested the Secretary-General to add a programme area on islands to the oceans chapter (17) of Agenda 21.

When Programme Area G, "Sustainable Development of Small Islands" was first presented at PrepCom IV in New York in March 1992, it was accepted by the delegates with comparatively little debate. The objective of the programme area is to adopt and implement sustainable development plans for islands, including the utilization of marine and coastal resources, the maintenance of biodiversity and the improvement in the quality of life for island peoples. Paragraph 17.131 of the final text of Agenda 21 stated that: "Small island developing States, with the support, as appropriate, of international organizations, whether subregional, regional or global, should develop and strengthen inter-island, regional and interregional cooperation and information exchange, including periodic regional and global meetings on sustainable development of small island developing States with the first global conference on the sustainable development of small island developing States to be held in 1993."