By Tonia Moya, Executive Director, Green Cross Sweden
On 22 and 23 September in Åre, Sweden, a celebration of the Earth Charter took place as part of the Åre Sustainability Summit to mark the 15th year anniversary since the Åre Municipality adopted the Earth Charter. Tonia Moya, Executive Director, Green Cross Sweden, and Katrin Wissing, Chairman of the Urban Planning and Infrastructure Administration of Åre Municipality, opened the Earth Charter Celebration and the Åre Sustainability Summit.
Green Cross Ambassadors Ebbot Lundberg, Roger Pontare and Tiokasin Ghosthorse, contributed with this celebration with a musical performances, and Green Cross Ambassador Laila Spik spoke on the Indigenous Sami knowledge of utilizing nature as a source of medicine and nutrition.
The 4th Annual Åre Sustainability Summit was made possible by the Åre Municipality in cooperation with “Hushållningssällskapet” or Sweden’s Agricultural Society . The Åre Sustainability Summit is a grassroots initiative and transboundary event in the Country of Jämtland that promotes sustainable development. It aims to inspire innovation, enterprise and grassroots initiatives, as well as political action. The Summit consists of lectures, discussion groups, meetings and networking between speakers and participants. It aims to spread knowledge, inspiration and hope as a springboard to motivate businesses and the public to move from words to action toward a more sustainable world.
How Åre signed the Earth Charter
The history of how Åre became the first municipality in Sweden to sign the Charter begins when Native American Chief Oren Lyons, Onondaga Council of Chiefs, Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, started visiting the land of Sapmi at the beginning of the new millennium. Working with Green Cross Sweden delegation trips where arranged and meetings were held with all kinds of people in the region. The purpose was cultural exchange and to find allies for the Earth.
In the North, the Chief met representatives of Sami villages, local administrations, businesses and NGOs, all motivated by the call for sustainable development and deeper commitment to the planet. As a result of Chief Lyons’ many travels, on December 2, 2002, Åre became the first municipality in Sweden to adopt the Earth Charter into their environmental governance policy, along with the other strategies such as Agenda 21. Benckt Aspman, the former Environmental Strategist for Åre Municipality said, “The main incentive adapting the Earth Charter was that is way for local governments to unify long term development in the areas of economic sustainability, ecological sustainability and social sustainability.”
Jan Danielson, the late Chairman of Green Cross Sweden, environmental journalist and former host for Swedish television’s nature program “Mitt-I Naturen,” was also an influential voice in Sweden to promote “the People’s Earth Charter.” Others grassroots initiatives that grew in the Jämtland region to promote the declaration were from local NGO groups, as well as the United Nations Association of Sweden in Åre, where the women’s group led by Margareta Österberg was active.
Living examples of the Earth Charter
In a day and age when our world can benefit from positive news and good examples, Sweden and the valley of Åre may be a good role model for sustainable development. The region was one of the first to start recycling and begin waste sorting in rural communities. Like many Swedish municipalities, Åre is working to become fossil free, climate smart, and energy effective, and it supports internal programs that encourage the reduction of transport emissions. Additionally, the municipality began focusing on “green” transportation with various incentives. Together Jämtkraft AB and the towns of Östersund, Trondheim and Sundsvall, promote the use of electric vehicles with the “Green Highway”. This is a transport corridor with recharge stations for automobiles and trains from Sundsvall to Trondheim. Helping to increase the collective traffic is their initiative to allow cost free travel for children and youth on busses. Another was creating a better infrastructure in developing information and communications technology for virtual meetings. “Sustainable destination development” became a term used in the region after Helena Lindahl, with the Business and Commerce of Åre Municipality, began a project to create sustainable tourist destinations. Working with the Natural Step and local tourist organizations, the project worked to assist businesses and local administrations to structurally lighten their environmental footprint and encourage innovation. Åre implemented the Sustainable Tourist Destinations program together with the other regions of Bohuslän, Kiruna, Stockholm’s Archipelago and Vimmerby in Sweden.
Åre is a region of tourism with one of Sweden’s largest and most popular ski resorts in the Nordic countries. Tourism goes back in time when the ski resort with its’ mountain top “Åreskutan” was founded 108 years ago. The vast mountain valleys are breathtaking, and the history of tourism goes back to the 1800s, attracting guests to visit therapy spas and breathe fresh air. Today the municipality has invested in establishing nature paths for hiking, as well providing public information on the environment.
Green Cross has inspired companies like Plantagon and the Natural Academy Learning Lab, who are among the first in Sweden to adopt the Earth Charter in the Articles of Association for their companies. Göran Gennvi, CEO for the leadership consultancy company, Nature Academy, is one of the many that has been inspired by the Earth Charter. His motto is “nature is my classroom and teacher.” According to Göran Gennvi, “It is possible to run business based on an ethical framework where environmental protection, human rights, social and economic justice and peace go hand in hand.” Plantagon is another company and non-profit organization working with innovative technical solutions and architecture, which has put the Earth Charter into their Articles of Association, along with the UN Global Compact.
One of the goals of the Åre Municipality is to have a good relationship with the Sami people. The Åre Valley is a part of Sapmi, the land of the Sami people, who have lived there for at least a thousand years. During Chief Oren Lyons’ many visits with the Sami people, many stories and the history of their peoples were shared, and it was evident that both the Native Americans and Sami have many things in common. They share the complicated challenges of maintaining their ways of life; of land rights; a history of exploitation; and, their tremendous knowledge and wisdom of the natural world.
For the rest of us, the Indigenous philosophy of living close to the Earth and in tune with nature is the lesson and challenge of our time. We must listen to the Indigenous people of our world who can help us build a sustainable future at this critical time in Earth’s history. Our survival as the human race may depend on it.
The Earth Charter is a good place to start.
When reflect on the global security crisis and the need to take action, it is also important to understand that the very root of the crisis, from climate change and the destruction of our Mother Earth, lies within heart of man. We can call it consciousness. This is where the healing and change must come. We must work together over international and ideological boarders, and conflicts. This heart and consciousness of humanity is something we cannot see or touch however it is the root for all human activity. The Earth Charter is something tangible, structured and a strategic instrument with ethical guidelines that can empower humanity at the crossroads, on our inner journey of awakening, transformation and healing.
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“It’s time to realize our purpose here on the planet. Do you want to be the problem or do you want to be the solution?” Earth Charter is calling for your arrival back to Mother Earth so welcome aboard!”
– Ebbot Lundberg,
Chairman green Cross Sweden
The Earth Charter
Just as we have human rights for people, we have the Earth Charter for the Earth and its living community. The purpose is to help us live in harmony with our planet. The Earth Charter declaration is an ethical framework for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It was in 1994 that Mikhail Gorbachev, the founding President of Green Cross International, and the late Maurice Strong, Chairman of the Earth Summit, began the work to bring forth the Charter. With the support of their respective organizations and help from the government of Netherlands, the work continued as a civil society initiative and became what was the most inclusive participatory process ever associated with the creation of an international declaration. With the input from hundreds of thousands of people in 50 plus countries, and after a six-year worldwide consultation process (1994–2000), the Earth Charter was launched in 2000. Maurice Strong once said, “The Earth Charter is one of the most inclusive and holistic documents in existence with a guidelines for all human activity. The Earth Charter consists of up sixteen principles and sub-principles within the four pillars: I. Respect and Care for the Community of Life, II. Ecological Integrity, III. Social and Economic Justice, and IV. Democracy, Nonviolence, and Peace.
Today in the year 2017 we are even more at a critical time in human history where every individual, local community and world governments must awaken. Today, the Earth Charter is a global movement, a vision of hope, and a call to action, and is endorsed by over 6,000 organizations, including many governments and international organizations. Mikhail Gorbachev said “My hope is that the Earth Charter will be provides a guiding light for human behavior toward the environment in the next century.” The Earth Charter is significant today as like Indigenous philosophy is holistic and applies to all human activity and living in peace with the Earth.