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The Earth Charter: Introduction


Background

The idea of the Earth Charter originated in 1987, when the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development called for a new charter to guide the transition to sustainable development.

The Rio Declaration became the statement of the achievable consensus at that time. In 1994, Maurice Strong and Mikhail Gorbachev, working through organizations they each founded, the Earth Council and Green Cross International respectively, restarted the Earth Charter as a civil society initiative, with the help of the government of the Netherlands.

The drafting of the text was done during a six-year worldwide consultation process (1994-2000), overseen by the independent Earth Charter Commission, which was convened by Strong and Gorbachev with the purpose of developing a global consensus on values and principles for a sustainable future.

The final text of the Earth Charter was approved at a meeting of the Earth Charter Commission at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in March 2000. The official launch was on 29 June 2000 in a ceremony at The Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands attended the ceremony.

The approximately 2,400 word document is divided into sections (called pillars), which have sixteen main principles containing sixty-one supporting principles. The document opens with a preamble and ends with a conclusion entitled ‚ "The Way Forward". The Earth Charter is a people’s declaration on global interdependence and universal responsibility that sets forth fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful world. It endeavors to identify the critical challenges and choices facing humanity in the twenty first century. Its principles are designed to serve “as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, organizations, businesses, governments, and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed.”

The Earth Charter is the product of a decade long, world- wide, cross-cultural, dialogue on common goals and shared values conducted during the 1990s. This process, which involved the most open and participatory consultation process ever associated with the drafting of an international document, is the primary source of the legitimacy of the Earth Charter as an ethical guide.

Origins of the Earth Charter

Among the many recommendations in Our Common Future (1987), the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), is a call for creation of a “Universal Declaration on Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development” in the form of a “new charter” with principles to guide nations in the transition to sustainable development.

Building on this recommendation, Maurice F. Strong, the secretary general of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit (UN Conference on Environment and Development), proposed in 1990 that the Summit draft and adopt an Earth Charter. Intergovernmental consultations were held on the Earth Charter during the preparatory process for the Rio Earth Summit, but an intergovernmental agreement on principles for an Earth Charter could not be reached.

The Rio Declaration, which was issued by the Summit, contains a valuable set of principles, but it falls short of the inclusive ethical vision that many people hoped to find in the Earth Charter.

In 1994, Maurice Strong as chairman of the Earth Council joined with Mikhail Gorbachev in his capacity as president of Green Cross International to launch a new Earth Charter initiative. It was Jim McNeill, secretary general of the WCED, and Queen Beatrix and Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers of The Netherlands who brought Strong and Gorbachev together. The Dutch government provided the initial financial support. The plan was to conduct the project as a civil society initiative and to draft a charter that articulates the consensus taking form in the emerging global civil society on values and principles for a sustainable future.

Toward the end of 1996, an Earth Charter Commission was formed to oversee the drafting process. It was co- chaired by Strong and Gorbachev and included a diverse group of twenty-three eminent persons from all the major regions of the world.

Hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals participated in the creation of the Earth Charter. Forty-five Earth Charter national committees were formed. Earth Charter dialogues were conducted throughout the world and on-line on the Internet, and major regional conferences were held in Asia, Africa, Central and South America, North America, and Europe. The ideas and values in the Earth Charter reflect the influence of a great variety of intellectual sources and social movements. These include the wisdom of the world’s religions and great philosophical traditions and the new scientific worldview being shaped by, among other disciplines, cosmology and ecology.

The Earth Charter should be seen as a product of the global ethics movement that inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and gained wide support in the 1990s.

The Earth Charter builds on and extends international environmental and sustainable development law. It reflects the concerns and aspirations expressed at the seven UN Summit meetings held during the 1990s on the environment, human rights, population, children, women, social development, and the city. It recognizes the importance of the spread of participatory and deliberative democracy for human development and environmental protection.

The final text of the Earth Charter, which was approved at a meeting of the Earth Charter Commission at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in March 2000, contains a preamble, 16 main principles, sixty-one supporting principles, and a conclusion entitled “The Way Forward.” The Preamble affirms that “we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny,” and the Earth Charter encourages all people to recognize their shared responsibility, each according to his or her situation and capacity, for the well-being of the whole human family, the greater community of life, and future generations.

Recognizing the interrelationship of humanity’s environmental, economic, social, and cultural problems, the Earth Charter presents an inclusive, integrated ethical framework. The titles of the four sections into which the principles are divided indicate the breadth of the vision: I Respect and Care for the Community of life; II Ecological Integrity; III Social and Economic Justice; and IV Democracy, Non- Violence, and Peace. The Earth Charter identifies a number of widely shared spiritual attitudes and values that can strengthen commitment to its ethical principles, and the document culminates with a vision of peace and the joyful celebration of life.