The Earth Charter
The Vision and the Background
Principle 6a: "Take action to avoid the possibility of serious or irreversible environmental harm even when scientific knowledge is incomplete or inconclusive."
The Earth Charter project began as a United Nations initiative. It called for a transition to a more sustainable future, setting up The World Commission on the Environment and Development. Its report, Our Common Future, published in 1987, begins:
“The environment is humanity’s life-support system. It supplies us with air, water and food and all materials and energy for our survival. For thousands of years humans have altered environments by hunting, fire and agriculture but most of the change has been gradual, reversible and local. Over the past century or two industrialization and economic growth have greatly increased the extent and severity of society’s impacts on the environment. To loss of species and natural habitats has been added local damage by agricultural chemicals, transnational pollution by acid rain and river pollution, and now global changes to the atmosphere, certainly as regards ozone depletion, possibly leading to global warming. The harmonious integration of natural systems is being damaged by a range of human impacts that seem ill-informed, disorganized and perverse.”
The consultation process and initial drafting of an Earth Charter drew on hundreds of international documents. In 1997, an independent Earth Charter Commission was formed to analyse and compile the outcomes of a world-wide consultation process, and develop the text. After 3 years of this collaboration the Earth Charter was published in 2000 and it cut right to the heart of the situation with the opening lines of its preamble: “We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.”
The Earth Charter - Preamble
“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds both great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognise that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms, we are one human family, and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations”.
The Earth Charter in practice today
Writing in 2019, we are witnessing not only a continuation but an escalation of the damage we are causing on a global scale;
- rising global temperatures to constantly record levels creating, inter alia, the worst ever forest fires in California;
- 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles being wiped out since 1970;
- the creation of an emergency situation with global air pollution;
- 65 million refugees seeking an escape from their intolerable living conditions, a number which has increased since 2007 by 41%.
In stark contrast to this situation we continue to create, the Earth Charter sets forth fundamental principles for our relationship with planet Earth and with one another, and includes a declaration of essential principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society.
The Chair of the Commission, Mrs Brundtland (former Prime Minister of Norway), commented ‘The Earth is one but the world is not,’ making the point that the planet acts as one coherent whole, but the world of human beings does not – it acts selfishly and thus destructively.’
The Earth Charter is the only organization in the world which combines both respect for nature and respect for people on the basis that the changes needed in our attitudes and our behaviour is the same; it is a question of converting ONE into Oneness
The Charter is now endorsed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Culltural Organisation (UNESCO) and being implemented throughout the world: for more information see www.earthcharter.org/act/countries/
The Earth Charter in the UK
Here in the UK quite a few organisations have endorsed the Charter, including:
- Bournemouth Borough Council (the only local authority in the UK to do so)
- the Avonbourne Trust group of schools: Avonbourne College for girls, Harewood College for boys, Avonbourne mixed 6th Form, and Avonwood Primary School
- East Dorset Friends of the Earth
- Bournemouth Inter-faith Group
- Dorset Agenda 21 Ltd (Sustainable Dorset)
- East Dorset Green Party
The whole of the Earth Charter can be read here