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Earth Council: how did it start?


After Rio, the Earth Council and the Environmental Movement

Maurice Strong, in his publication "Where On Earth Are We Going?", gives a first hand account of the events, which led to the creation of the Earth Council. Here are some excerpts:

"Too much had happened at UNCED for me to just let it go. The more I thought about the prospect for implementation of its results, the less I thought it sensible co depend only on governments; I could see how easily governments, caught up in the serious crises in the management of a modern state, could shunt the conference's recommendations into bureaucratic corners where they would neither bother anyone or achieve much.

As the preparations for UNCED had proceeded, I had become increasingly convinced that its ultimate results would depend to a great extent on the actions of non-governmental organizations and citizen groups, what we now more generally refer to as "civil society." So many thousands of local and grassroots groups had emerged in developing countries as well as the more developed ones, and 1could see the urgent need to provide them with better links to each other and to the policy and decision making processes that affect them.

During the latter part of the preparatory period, I had begun testing an idea on some of my friends and colleagues. The notion was to set up a new global, non-governmental body - which I called an Earth Council - with the goal of activating and servicing a network of NGOs and citizen groups committed to implementing the results of the Earth Summit-co-operating rather than competing with existing organizations.

It was to focus especially on grassroots and community-level organizations in the developing countries that had little access to external resources or international ties.

I found a great deal of interest and some strong allies. Part of my idea was to locate the new organization in the developing world. I wanted to make a clear exception to the vast majority of international NGOS, almost all, headquartered in, and dominated by, the more developed countries.

Costa Rica seemed to mean obvious choice. I a1ready had connections there, and it was recognized as an environmental leader. I didn't know the current president, Rafael Calderon, but I remembered that in one of his first speeches as president he had called for the establishment of a "new ecological order".

When I did meet him, he expressed strong interest in having the Earth Council headquartered in Costa Rica and extended his support.

At a meeting arranged for the purpose in Rio, President Calderon and I announced that the Earth Council would be established in Costa Rica. In this, at least one aspect of the next phase of my life had been launched.

My principal task as chairman of the new body was to put the legal and financial structure of the council in place and to recruit its members.

We had set up a democratic electoral process, inviting some ten thousand non-governmental organizations to nominate candidates to the twenty-one-member council.

The electoral process we had setup did produce a quite well-balanced council, with representatives of every geographical region and various sectors of society, including youth and indigenous peoples, nearly half of them women. We also established a category of honorary members: we invited a number of eminent persons to express their support for the council by joining it.

The Earth Council had been set up as a new and somewhat different kind of NGO, one that would work in partnership with others, particularly grassroots organizations that lacked connections to international organizations.

The first meeting of the  Earth  Council, where a number of honorary members participated, was in San José, preceded by a meeting of the Earth Council Institute. The meeting produced a series of program recommendations to the council.

Spirits were high and discussions were lively, but it took sometime for the group members, drawn from diverse backgrounds, to really undersrand and appreciate one another.

After the first meeting, the council accepted the recommendations of the Earth Council Institute and strongly endorsed the mission of the council "to support and empower people in building a more secure,equitable and sustainable future" and mandated, in doing so, to "help to build on and improve co-operation among and between components of civil society in ways that add value to, rather than compere with, the activities of others."

There were many ways of doing this. Among them the Earth Council undertook to help set up many Narional Councils for Sustainable Development, whose task was to help governments and civil society to co-operate in implementing rhe Earth Summit Agenda.

Another important endeavour was to encourage support for a body called the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI); whose purpose was to help cities and towns throughout the world develop their own Local Agenda 21, based on Rio's global agenda.

Other aspects ofthe Earth Council's work included helping indigenous peoples relate their spiritual traditions and value systems to the movement for sustainable development and creating an "ombudsman" function to help redress environmental injustices and resolve disputes.

That the council's headquarters were in Costa Rica made it easier to be especially active in Central America, and it was a strong supporter of the movernent by the governments of the region to establish a Central American Alliance for Sustainable Development, the first of its kind in the world."