"Benchmark" draft of Earth Charter emerges at Rio + 5

In Brief: 

Looking ahead to the upcoming "Earth Summit II," scheduled for June in New York, NGOs call for an emphasis on values, issuing a new draft of the long-discussed Earth Charter.

Looking ahead to the upcoming "Earth Summit II," scheduled for June in New York, NGOs call for an emphasis on values, issuing a new draft of the long-discussed Earth Charter

RIO DE JANEIRO - A redrafted "Earth Charter," which emphasizes human oneness and challenges the world to make a "fundamental change of course" toward sustainable development, was the main product of "Rio + 5," an international gathering of some 500 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and United Nations leaders here in mid-March.

Backers of the Charter, who believe it can provide a critically important moral guide for building a sustainable world civilization, hope to present the so-called "benchmark" draft to governments for consideration at the upcoming "Earth Summit II" - a special session of the UN General Assembly scheduled for June.

"In the midst of all our diversity, we are one humanity and one Earth family with a shared destiny," states the draft, which has evolved gradually over the last half-dozen years in a process that has involved consultation with thousands of groups and individuals around the world. "The challenges before us require an inclusive ethical vision."

The document enumerates 18 principles by which the world should "reinvent industrial-technological civilization" and seek to find "new ways to balance self and community, having and being, diversity and unity, short-term and long-term, using and nurturing." Those principles include the practice of non-violence, the affirmation of equality between the sexes, respect for indigenous peoples, and the importance of participatory decision-making processes.

Held 13-19 March, the Rio + 5 meeting aimed at assessing and revitalizing the progress towards sustainable development since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, was held here five years ago.

Organized and coordinated by the Earth Council, an international NGO based in Costa Rica, the gathering was by invitation only. It brought together some of the leading activists and specialists in environment and development, including Maurice F. Strong, Secretary General of UNCED and President of the Earth Council; Juan Somavia, chairman of the World Summit for Social Development; Wally N'Dow, Secretary General of the Second UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II); Bella Abzug, President of the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO); and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, now president of Green Cross International.

"The Earth Charter addresses the fundamental problem underpinning the global crisis, namely, conflict in values," said Brendan Mackey, a forest ecologist at the Australian National University. "Without agreement as to what we value and think is important, we will continue to spin dangerously out of control.

"The document reflects a very long and extensive process of participation and consultation with people throughout the world, and reflects the language of the world's major religions, philosophies and world views," added Dr. Mackey.

The Earth Council plans to continue to circulate the Charter for comment and to introduce it for consideration at the General Assembly Special Session in June. The upcoming Session aims to review and appraise the progress that has been made in implementing Agenda 21, the global plan of action adopted at UNCED.

Bahá'í participation

The Bahá'í International Community has been a participant in consultations on the proposed Earth Charter since before the Rio '92 Earth Summit. In 1991, the Community issued a statement containing proposed principles for an Earth Charter and its representatives were deeply involved in Earth Charter negotiations before and during the NGO Global Forum in Rio in 1992.

At the Rio + 5 meeting, the Community's representative, Peter Adriance, was part of the "values and education" group which engaged in further discussions on the essential principles of an Earth Charter. Mr. Adriance also took part in the Charter drafting effort during the Rio + 5 meeting.

"In this 'benchmark' version, we are especially pleased at the inclusion of principles which are foundational to the success of efforts to create a sustainable global society," said Lawrence Arturo, director of the Office of the Environment of the Bahá'í International Community. "Such principles include the oneness of humanity, recognition of the importance of equality between the sexes, and an emphasis on participation, knowledge and education."

"Although we might not necessarily agree with every item in this current draft, we think the Earth Charter process is an extremely important one," Mr. Arturo added. "Never before has a document from civil society received such extensive input from so many sectors of society in so many different countries and regions. In this regard, the Earth Charter is already a ground-breaking effort and, even in its current form, an historic document."