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The Earth Charter

The Earth Charter is a widely recognized, global consensus statement on ethics and values for a sustainable future. Developed over a period of ten years, in what has been called the most extensive global consultation process ever associated with an international declaration, the Earth Charter has been formally endorsed by over 2,500 organizations, including global institutions such as UNESCO and the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

A short history:
  • The World Commission on Environment and Development (aka "the Brundtland Commission") called for "a universal declaration" and "new charter" to set "new norms" to guide the transition to sustainable development. (Our Common Future, 1987)
  • A draft UN Earth Charter was developed for the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, but the time for such a declaration was not right. The Rio Declaration became the formal statement of the achievable consensus among nations at that time, but the proposal for an Earth Charter received considerable support from global civil society.
  • In 1994, Maurice Strong (Secretary-General of the Rio Summit) and Mikhail Gorbachev, working through their organizations (Earth Council and Green Cross International respectively), restarted the Earth Charter as a civil society initiative, with initial facilitation and support from the government of the Netherlands.
  • The process quickly broadened to engage national committees, as well as civic and academic consultations, in dozens of nations. The initial drafting and consultation process also drew on hundreds of international documents, with special attention to those statements of ethical principle that were already embedded in international agreements.
  • Messrs. Strong and Gorbachev convened a formal, high-level, and independent Earth Charter Commission in 1997. Comprised of a very diverse set of twenty-five leaders, the Commission worked to oversee the final development of the text and to come to agreement on a global consensus document.
  • After numerous drafts and after considering the written input of over 5,000 people, the Earth Charter Commission came to consensus on the Earth Charter in March, 2000, at a meeting held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The Earth Charter was formally launched later that year, in ceremonies at The Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands.
  • Over the next five years, a formal endorsement campaign attracted over 2,500 organizational endorsements, representing millions of people, including numerous national and international associations, as well as the global assemblies of institutions such as UNESCO and IUCN. Over 400 cities and towns enacted resolutions endorsing the Earth Charter. And many thousands of individuals endorsed the Earth Charter through the on-line endorsement system.
  • Efforts to have the Earth Charter formally recognized at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, 2002, came very close to success, resulting in numerous public statements of support from world leaders and heads of state.
  • By 2005, the Earth Charter had become widely recognized as a global consensus statement on the meaning of sustainability, the challenge and vision of sustainable development, and the principles by which sustainable development is to be achieved. It was being used as a basis for peace negotiations, as a reference document in the development of global standards and codes of ethics, as resource for governance and legislative processes, as a community development tool, as an educational framework for sustainable development, and in many other contexts. The Charter was also an important influence on the Plan of Implementation for the UNESCO Decade for Education on Sustainable Development.
  • Beginning in 2007, national governments began to make even stronger, more formal commitments to the Earth Charter. The Brazilian Ministry of Environment entered into a formal agreement (with the Earth Charter International secretariat and a Brazilian human rights NGO) to promote the Earth Charter to every sector of Brazilian society, as well as internationally. Two ministries of the Mexican government made public commitments to the Charter in the context of a Presidential celebration of Earth Day. Other state and city governments began, or strengthened, similar processes of making formal public commitments to implement the charter in major policies and programs, including the State of Queensland, Australia, the Republic of Tatarstan in the Russian Federation, and cities like Oslo (Norway), Munich (Germany), and Calgary (Canada).
  • During 2007, the Earth Charter website experienced a dramatic increase in visitors, growing by over 1,500% (fifteen times, increasing to nearly 100,000 per month) in just nine months. In late 2007, the Earth Charter International Council launched a new strategy of "Decentralized Empowerment for Scaling Up," designed to dramatically increase active participation in the Initiative without the need for an expanded central administration. New "Action Guidelines" were released to provide a framework for this expected upsurge in decentralized activity to promote the Earth Charter and implement its vision.
  • Looking to the future, the Earth Charter continues to grow in international stature as a source of inspiration for action, an educational framework, and as well as a reference document for the development of policy, legislation, and international standards and agreements. Endorsement of the Earth Charter has become a process that stresses engagement with the document in practice, including use of the Charter as an assessment framework, and active contribution to initiatives that reflect Earth Charter values and principles. Decentralization paves the way for a rapid expansion in Earth Charter-related activity world over.
Click here to read the Earth Charter