Preparations for the Rio +20 Summit - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Earth Charter UK


This paper from Earth Charter UK introduces the Charter, and its current position in the UK. It then addresses the two key issues of Rio+20 (Greening the Economy and Institutional Frameworks) informed both by international papers prepared for the Earth Charter initiative on the issues and work currently being undertaken in the UK.

It contains three recommendations for consideration by the Committee:

—  1.  In order to drive ambition in the run-up to the Conference and at Rio, including its part in the EU the UK government should recognise and support the Earth Charter as a means of inspiring commitment and action by individuals and organisations.

—  2.  The UK government is asked to adopt the fifteen principles of a green economy as providing a working framework. These principals individually and together should form the basis of the UK transition towards sustainability and a green economy.

—  3.  Given the magnitude and multiplicity of environmental and social issues facing our planet, the UK government is urged to support the call at Rio for the establishment of a World Environment Organisation.


1.1  The Earth Charter itself was a direct outcome of the 1992 Rio Summit, which called for a document which would complement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but deal with human responsibility to the planet and all forms of life.

1.2  Maurice Strong and Mikhail Gorbachev both independently began work, and were then brought together by the Dutch PM Ruud Lubbers. An international drafting committee, under the leadership of Steven Rockefeller drew on the work of a decade long, worldwide, cross-cultural conversation about common goals and shared values. The drafting of the Earth Charter involved the most open and participatory consultation process ever conducted in connection with an international document. Thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations from all regions of the world, different cultures and religions, and diverse sectors of society have participated. The Charter has therefore been shaped by both experts and representatives of grassroots communities and was published for the millennium in June 2000, and endorsed by UNESCO in 2002. It has been recommended by UNESCO as an authoritative source document for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-15)

1.3  The Charter provides an integrated ethical approach to the crises which are currently facing us—environmental, financial, population, resources, inequity—16 Principles (distinct from, though overlapping, the 15 Green Economy Principles below) and 61 detailed sub-principles grouped under the four headings of:

—  Care and Respect for the Community of Life;

—  Ecological Integrity;

—  Social and Economic Justice; and

—  Democracy, Non-violence and Peace.

1.4  UK contributions came from numerous organisations, encouraged by the Stakeholder Forum but until 2007 there was no dissemination of the EC in UK or, perhaps more importantly, testing of how the EC could foster change.

1.5  In 2007 a small organisation, Earth Charter UK ( ), was set up to undertake these tasks and five key areas were identified:

—  Education.

—  Business.

—  "Governance"—local, national and ngos,

—  Faith communities,

—  Young people,

1.6  Two key pieces of work have emerged since then:

—  HM Department for International Development has given a three year grant to investigate the "Opportunities and Responsibilities for Business in relation to climate change and the millennium development goals", using the Earth Charter as a framework. We are half-way through this work, with promising results emerging.

—  Bournemouth Borough Council has become the first in the UK to endorse the Earth Charter providing exciting opportunities for in-depth, cross-cutting work engaging all the target areas in 1.4 above. A brief report is appended.

1.7  The Preamble to the Earth Charter includes the following paragraph on The Global Situation:

The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. Communities are being undermined. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause of great suffering. An unprecedented rise in human population has overburdened ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are threatened. These trends are perilous—but not inevitable.

Our overall hope for the Rio+20 meeting is:

—  for effective challenges to the unquestioned assumption of continual growth;

—  for proposals for the replacement of GNP by wider instruments;

—  for effective policies for establishing sustainable living (rather than sustainable development); and

—  for the replacement of wasteful consumerism by a developing emphasis on reclamation and regeneration.

1.8  Commitment to and, where possible, endorsement of the Earth Charter by individuals, organisations and national governments (Portugal, 2010; Mexico 2009 and Tajikistan 2000) is a major indicator of:

—  the recognition of the need to embed an ethical approach at the core of decision making; and

—  a statement that the situation facing us, though perilous is not inevitable and that work together collaboratively can bring about the necessary changes.

We therefore recommend:

Recommendation One

The Summit should recognise and support the Earth Charter as a means of inspiring commitment and action by individuals and organisations around the world.

In regard to the Committee's desire to investigate:

—  the objectives and roles the UK Government should assume in order to drive ambition in the run-up to the Conference and at Rio, including its part in the EU

We recommend similar recognition and support by the UK. This would be in line with the recommendations of the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee of 15.09.2010 NAT/469 Paragraph 1.5 (appended).

2.0  After the Charter was published, while responsibility for the text of the Charter remains in the hands of the Commission, the Earth Charter Initiative was set up, with a Secretariat in Costa Rica alongside the UN University of Peace and governed by an international Earth Charter Council, to foster the Charter's endorsement, adoption and implementation.

2.1  A form of 'devolved empowerment' was adopted, encouraging individual Charter groups all over the world to work to achieve the Charter's aims of a Just, Sustainable and Peaceful Global Society.

2.2  The Secretariat publishes research being done on its behalf across the world and this Submission draws upon that work. Work concerning Rio+20 can be found at (accessed 17.09.2011)

2.3  The Earth Charter Initiative has two goals for Rio 2012:

—  to emphasize the need for a comprehensive ethical framework, articulating shared values and principles to inspire and guide different actors in the transition to a sustainable future; and

—  to demonstrate the relevance of the Earth Charter to the objectives of the Rio 2012 Conference and its process.

2.4  At this time, three articles (appended) have been published on the ECI web-site:

—  The Earth Charter and the Green Economy by ECI Secretariat (March 2011).

—  Principles for the Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication by ECI Secretariat, Stakeholder Forum and Bioregional.

—  Enabling a Flourishing Earth: Challenges for the Green Economy, Opportunities for Global Governance by Bosselmann, Brown and Mackey.

3.0  Principles for a Green Global Economy

3.1  Drawing upon the Earth Charter (and providing a consolidated chart comparing other key instruments: The Stockholm Declaration, the Rio Declaration, The Johannesburg Declaration, The One Planet Living Principles, The Green Economy Coalition, the TUC "Just Transition" principles, and The New Economics Foundation), the Earth Charter Initiative, in conjunction with Stakeholder Forum, has identified and published 15 Principles which together help define a global green economy. They are reproduced here, for convenience:

—  1.  Equitable distribution of wealth: Promote the equitable distribution of wealth within nations and among nations, to reduce disparities between rich and poor, and achieve social and economic justice, within a sustainable and fair share of the world's resources and leaving sufficient space for wildlife and wilderness.

—  2.  Economic equity and fairness: Guided by the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, create economic partnerships that would transfer substantial financial and technological assistance to less developed countries, to help minimize the gap between the developed and developing world and support the environmental sustainability of both.

—  3.  Intergenerational Equity: Environmental resources and ecosystems must be carefully managed and safeguarded so as to enhance the value of environmental assets for future generations, thereby equitably meeting their needs and allowing them to flourish.

—  4.  Precautionary Approach: Science should be utilized to enhance social and environmental outcomes, through the identification of environmental risk. Scientific uncertainty of environmental impacts shall not lead to avoidance of measures to prevent environmental degradation. The 'burden of proof' should lie with those claiming that there will not be significant environmental impacts

—  5.  The Right to Development: Human development in harmony with the environment is fundamental to the achievement of sustainable development, so that individuals and societies are empowered to achieve positive social and environmental outcomes.

—  6.  Internalization of Externalities: Building true social and environmental value should be the central goal of policy. To this end, market prices must reflect real social and environmental costs and benefits, so that that the polluter bears the cost of pollution. Tax regimes and regulatory frameworks should be used to "tilt the playing field", making "good" things cheap and "bad" things very expensive.

—  7.  International Cooperation: The application of environmental standards within nation States must be undertaken in a cooperative manner with the international community, based on an understanding of the possible impact on the development potential of other States. Environmental measures relating to trade should avoid unfair protectionism, but overall should ensure that trade supports sustainable resource use, environmental protection and progressive labour standards, promoting a "race to the top" rather than the bottom.

—  8.  International liability: Acknowledging that actions within national boundaries can cause environmental impacts beyond national jurisdictions, requiring cooperation in the development of international law that allows for independent judicial remedies in such cases.

—  9.  Information, participation and accountability: All citizens should have access to information concerning the environment, as well as the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. To ensure that environmental issues are handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, institutions at all levels (national and international) must be democratic and accountable, and make use of tools that enable civil society to hold them to account. In this regard, the access to justice by citizens for redress and remedy in environmental matters is a cornerstone of enhancing accountability.

—  10.  Sustainable Consumption and Production: Introduce sustainable production and consumption with sustainable and equitable resource use. Reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, i.e. reduce, reuse, and recycle the materials used, acknowledge the scarcity of the Earth resources and implement activities accordingly.

—  11.  Strategic, co-ordinated and integrated planning to deliver sustainable development, the green economy and poverty alleviation: An integrated approach must be adopted at all levels to expedite the achievement of socio-economic and environmental sustainability through strategic planning with civil society and stakeholders, and across all relevant government departments.

—  12.  Just Transition: There will be costs in making the transition to a low carbon, green economy in the pursuit of sustainable development. Some States and actors are better able to bear those costs than others and are more resilient to transitional changes. In the process of change, the most vulnerable must be supported and protected—developing countries must have access to appropriate financial and technical assistance, citizens and communities must also have access to new skills and jobs.

—  13.  Redefine Well-being: GDP is an inadequate tool for measuring social wellbeing and environmental integrity. Many socially and environmentally damaging activities enhance GDP—such as fossil fuel exploitation and financial speculation. Human wellbeing and quality of life, and environmental health should be the guiding objectives of economic development.

—  14.  Gender Equality: Gender equality and equity are prerequisites to the transition to a green economy and the achievement of sustainable development. Women have a vital role to play as agents of change for environmental management and development and their actions must be rewarded accordingly and their skills enhanced.

—  15.  Safeguard biodiversity and prevent pollution of any part of the environment: Protect and restore biodiversity and natural habitats as integral to development and human wellbeing, and develop a system of governance that protects the resilience of ecosystems to prevent irreversible damage.

Recommendation Two

The Committee is respectfully encouraged to draw the attention of HM Government to the above 15 Principles in all its work towards fostering and developing the Green Economy and to champion their adoption in Rio.

Further each of the Principles should be studied individually and in conjunction with the others to see where they may be further implemented across the UK economy in order to ensure a swift transition towards sustainability.

4.0  The institutional framework for sustainable development

This section is drawn from the appended paper prepared for the Earth Charter Initiative by Klaus Bosselmann (Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Auckland, who, with J. Ronald Engel, the Emeritus Professor of Theology and Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Humans and Nature in Chicago has published a textbook, The Earth Charter: A framework for Global Governance); Peter G Brown, (Professor of Geography and Environmental Ethics, McGill); Brendan Mackey (Prof of Environmental Biogeography Australian National Univ, IUCN Council, Co-Chair, EC Council). The paper has full, detailed and very helpful references.

4.1  The magnitude of the issues we face globally is truly immense. As yet, we are far from addressing the negative environmental and social outcomes as manifested by the climate change problem, the biodiversity extinction crisis, the ongoing crippling effects on human wellbeing of poverty, violence and war, along with water and food security and other resource concerns. The scale and complexity of our problems has pushed solutions beyond the grasp of current governance mechanisms.

4.2  We need integrated responses that are framed by the reality that Earth is our common home with natural limits to its exploitation, and that people in all nations have a common destiny and share interest in how their world is governed. As noted in the Earth Charter:

… To realize these aspirations we must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities. We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked. Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world.

4.3  We concur with those world leaders who have concluded that the global scope of the challenges, together with the special requirements of the "goods of the commons" (air, water, the oceans, the atmosphere, healthy soil, the diversity of life), will require a new world organisation, identified here as WEO (World Environment Organisation).

4.4  The mandate of such a WEO would provide a trusteeship function over global public goals and common goods—that is, those portions of the planet and its surrounding space which lie above and beyond the recognized territorial claims of any nation. The trusteeship duties will include:

—  Global obligations for the integrity of planetary boundaries and the wellbeing of the greater community of life.

—  Overseeing markets to ensure that they are protective of non-market common goods.

—  Ensuring impartiality of all interests—individual, civil society, corporate, national—along with respect for human rights and ecological well-being.

The WEO could act in a similar way to that in which the UN trusteeship council acted as a "guardian" of interests of states transitioning from colonisation to independence, that is for entities which have not, as yet, legal standing.

4.5  The legitimacy of such a powerful environmental institution will depend upon its being widely democratic, representative and participatory. As recent geopolitical events illustrate, Earth Charter principle 13 is rapidly becoming an international norm in all the cultures of the world:

Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision making, and access to justice.

This democratic principle is particularly important with relation to the environment as it is an issue which will affect everyone and often particularly those with the least power.

4.6  Finance must be sufficient, predictable and coherent best secured by a Global Commons Trust Fund, levied on those who are the proximate generators of global environmental and social harm, together with a tax on financial transactions. (Details are provided in footnotes 25-29 of the Bosselmann paper)

4.7  The creation of such a WEO at the present time, against what might be considered as the current thinking both of nation-states and multi-national corporations, may seem impossible to envisage. Nothing, however, could do more to reassure people worldwide, particularly young people, that change is possible, given the magnitude and urgency of global environmental problems. To quote again the Earth Charter:

The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life. Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living. We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more. We have the knowledge and technology to provide for all and to reduce our impacts on the environment. The emergence of a global civil society is creating new opportunities to build a democratic and humane world. Our environmental, economic, political, social, and spiritual challenges are interconnected, and together we can forge inclusive solutions.

Recommendation 3

Given the magnitude and multiplicity of environmental and social issues facing our planet, the UK government is urged to support the call at Rio for the establishment of a World Environment Organisation.

28 September 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 26 October 2011