In the course of the past two years, a new Earth Charter initiative has been organized under the leadership of the Earth Council and Green Cross International with support from the Government of The Netherlands. In 1987 the UN World Commission on Environment and Development called for creation of a new charter that would "prescribe new norms for state and interstate behavior needed to maintain livelihoods and life on our shared planet." It had been hoped that the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 would produce agreement on an Earth Charter, clarifying the most fundamental principles of environmental conservation and sustainable development. However, even though the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development is a valuable document, it falls short of the aspirations people have had for the Earth Charter. Therefore, fresh efforts are underway to conduct a world wide process of consultation that will lead to international agreement on an Earth Charter by the year 2000.
In order to address the many interrelated social, economic, and ecological problems that face the world today, humanity must undergo a radical change in its attitudes, values and behavior. An integrated vision of the basic ethical principles and practical guidelines that should govern the conduct of people and nations in their relations with each other and the Earth is urgently needed. In response to this situation, a new global ethics is taking form, and it is finding expression in international law. The primary purpose of the Earth Charter Project is to create a "soft law" document that sets forth the fundamental principles of this emerging new ethics of respect for human rights, peace, economic equity, environmental protection, and sustainable living.
The Earth Charter will build on earlier international declarations, charters, and treaties, including those that have been drafted by a variety of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It must also draw on the discoveries of science, the moral insights of the world's religions, and the extensive world literature on global ethics and the ethics of environment and development. The intention is to create a succinct statement that emphasizes values and principles that are fundamental in character and of enduring significance and that reflect the common concerns and shared values of people of all races, cultures, and religions. It will be written in language that is clear, inspiring, and easily translated. It is hoped that the Earth Charter will become a universal code of conduct for states and people that will do for environmental conservation and sustainable development what the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights has done for human rights.
The secretariat for the Earth Charter Project is based at the Earth Council in Costa Rica. The Earth Council was established in 1992 following the Rio Earth Summit to promote sustainable development and the objectives of Agenda 21. The chairman of the Earth Council is Maurice Strong, the former Secretary General of the Earth Summit, and the Council's executive director is Maximo T. Kalaw, Jr., of the Philippines. In recent months the Earth Council has launched a world wide Earth Charter consultation process, which is designed to engage men and women from all sectors of society and all cultures in contributing to development of the Earth Charter. It is recognized that in many ways the consultation process is as important as the final product, because in order for the Earth Charter to win wide support, people and organizations throughout the world must have a sense of ownership of the document. In addition, in order to fulfill its promise, the Charter must articulate values and principles relevant to the practical problems that people face in their everyday lives.
The Earth Charter consultation process is being conducted as part of a larger review of progress toward sustainable development over the past five years since the Rio Earth Summit. The Earth Council has invited a variety of organizations in different parts of the world and diverse sectors of society to become partners with the Earth Council in conducting this Rio+5 review. Each partner organization is expected to involve many other organizations and groups in contributing to the consultation process. As part of the larger Rio+5 assessment, the partner organizations involved are being asked to make recommendations regarding the Earth Charter and the principles that can and should guide society on the path to sustainability. In this regard the Earth Council is asking all those engaged in the Rio+5 review to give special attention to the values and principles expressed in those best practices and living belief systems that most effectively promote sustainable development. In an effort to further expand public participation in the dialogue on the Earth Charter, the Earth Council will conduct an open "Earth Values Forum" on its Internet web site.
The Rio+5 review being conducted by the Earth Council will culminate in a Rio+5 Forum scheduled for March 13-17, 1997, in Rio de Janeiro. Over 400 representatives from NGOs, business, and national councils on sustainable development will gather for this event. A special report on the Earth Charter consultation process will be prepared for the meeting. The findings and conclusions of the Rio+5 Forum will be shared the following April with the participants in the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD). The CSD will in turn prepare recommendations for the special session of the UN General Assembly scheduled for June, 1997. At this special session, the General Assembly will complete its own assessment of progress toward sustainable development and prospects for the future.
Contributions to the Earth Charter consultation process that are to be taken into consideration by the Rio+5 Forum must be forwarded to the Earth Council, or to one of the partner organizations in the consultation process, by December, 1996, but the international dialogue on the Earth Charter will continue throughout 1997 and beyond. In this regard, an Earth Charter Commission will soon be assembled by the Earth Council and Green Cross International, the chairman of which is Mikhail S. Gorbachev. The Commission will be composed of twenty eminent men and women who represent the different sectors of society and regions of the world. The responsibility of the Commission will be to oversee the ongoing consultation process and the drafting of the Earth Charter. The Commission will meet during the Rio+5 Forum and will present a report on the Earth Charter at the special session of the United Nations General Assembly in June 1997. At some as yet undetermined time in 1997 a drafting committee will be formed and a draft Earth Charter will be prepared.
The long range objective for the Earth Charter is approval by the UN General Assembly and ratification by all member states. However, when the Charter has been drafted it will be circulated throughout the world as a people's treaty in the hope that millions of people and numerous religious organizations and NGOs will embrace and sign it. With a strong showing of popular support, it should be possible to achieve approval by the United Nations.
When considering what principles should be included in the Earth Charter one constructive approach is to begin with the principles relevant to the Earth Charter that have already been articulated in the many international law documents adopted since the Stockholm Declaration in 1972. These various "soft law" and "hard law" instruments and related international reports provide the best overview of the new emerging global ethics. Reflecting on the principles in this material, one can then ask which of them belongs in the Earth Charter and what additional principles are needed and require formulation.
In this regard, a concise summary of international law principles has been prepared for the Earth Charter Project in a document entitled Principles of Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Development: Summary and Survey. The "Summary of Principles" from this document is included at the end of this essay. It reveals that a very significant consensus is emerging around a number of principles among legal experts, NGOs, UN officials and many government leaders.
The "Summary of Principles" is based on a survey of over forty international legal documents and related reports in the fields of international environmental and sustainable development law. Among the documents consulted are the major soft law instruments created over the past twenty-five years, including the Stockholm Declaration (1972), World Charter for Nature (1982), Rio Declaration (1992), and Agenda 21 (1992). Included in the survey are important international treaties such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1975), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), and the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992). The report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (1987), and the report of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living (1991), have also been used. In addition, the "Summary of Principles" has been much influenced by a new draft International Covenant on Environment and Development prepared by the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law and now under consideration at the United Nations. This draft International Covenant endeavors to consolidate and extend the relevant international law and to clarify the ecological and ethical foundations of this new body of law.
The material in the "Summary of Principles" has been organized under nine different categories, including, for example, World View, The Rights of People, Sustainable Development, Equity and Justice, Governance and Security, and Environmental Protection. The language used in formulating each principle is for the most part borrowed from the various legal instruments consulted, but the phrasing used in any one principle may be drawn from several different sources. The objective has been to articulate clearly the general ideas involved in each principle. The larger report, from which the "Summary of Principles" has been excerpted, identifies in a "Survey of Principles" the international documents in which the various principles may be found and shows how the formulation of each principle has evolved over the years.
A Report Format has been designed to organize contributions to
the consultation process. (A copy of the Report Format is
included in this edition of Earth Ethics for use by
readers.) Among the questions in the Report Format are several
that ask contributors to reflect on the "Summary of
Principles" in making recommendations regarding the scope
and specific content of the Charter. When responding to the
various questions in the Report Format, it is important to keep
in mind that the Earth Charter must express attitudes, values and
principles that can unite people in the midst of all their