On Sunday October 18th, during the Parliament of the World´s Religions held in Salt Lake City in Utah, USA, a seminar entitled “The Earth Charter and the New UN Development Agenda” took place with the participation of three speakers including Mary Evelyn Tucker (co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University), Kusumita Pederson (professor of Religious Studies at St. Francis College New York), and Rick Clugston (ECI Advisor and Director at the Center for Earth Ethics).
Here is a summary of the key points they brought to this session.
-Mary Evelyn Tucker Watch the video here.
Ms. Tucker briefly explained the process that took place to draft the Earth Charter. She emphasized that the Charter is a civil society document and the fact that the initial idea emerged during the preparatory process to the Earth Summit in 1992.
The contents of Earth Charter are ethical principles that join practical and policy issues. The Charter shows the relationship between ecology, justice, and peace. It provides a new perspective on the connection between people and the planet. The language of the Charter is inclusive and inspiring. The Earth Charter International Secretariat office was set up at the University for Peace in Costa Rica for guiding this movement. She said “the earth is alive” and recalled that at the 1997 Rio Conference, when the first draft was discussed, the indigenous people participating at that occasion were weeping because their world view was included in an international document for the first time.
Ms. Tucker suggested that, “The Earth Charter represents and reflects a language of a movement from a declaration of independence to a declaration of interdependence”. The world needs a new shift, which is not just for individuals, but for the whole earth community, all humans, animals, and all life in the ecosystem. It is a new geological era and we are all in this great transition. People’s energy force and actions could make a change and help the earth flourish.
Ms. Tucker stated that people are having a new “migration”, like birds and turtles finding their home. With the Earth Charter, we need to find the way home, back into the earth community.
– Kusumita Pederson Watch video here.
Dr. Kusumita Pedersen is Professor of Religious Studies at St. Francis College in New York. She presented the Earth Charter in the larger context of global ethics. Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which emphasizes human dignity, the Earth Charter also did the broad research necessary to find universally applicable ethics.
Dr. Pederson explained that people have different worldviews: the way one sees things and what one believes is real. For instance, some people may believe that certain groups of people or beings are less valuable than other groups.
The Earth Charter is distinctive because it honors all living communities, including different groups of human beings and different forms of life. This is a paradigm shift. Although it did not mention God, the Earth Charter does use the language of spirituality. For example, the Preamble states, “The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.”
Environmental problems have the potential to affect people’s worldviews and cause wars and conflicts. Killings and genocide often happen when there is a resource or food scarcity crisis (such as the droughts in the Middle East and ecological factors in the Rwandan genocide), and when some people are told that other people are less important than they are as a result. The Earth Charter was the first international document that used the word love. It represents the opposite worldview from genocide and all kinds of discrimination. The central ideas of the Earth Charter are justice, peace, and sustainability.
Dr. Pederson also echoed Ms. Tucker’s thought that civil society strategy is very deliberately adopted in the Earth Charter and the Charter is accepted by the UNESCO.
– Rick Clugston Watch video here.
Rick Clugston gave a brief description of the evolution and negotiation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and used the Earth Charter as an assessment framework to look at the SDGs. Launched in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focused on helping people address disadvantages and poverty, improving their living conditions, education, health, and income within 15 years.
The MDGs achieved some successful results, however, at the Rio +20 Conference in 2012, people knew that the MDGs were not sufficient to address many challenges and that global society needed to create new development goals. The central question is: how can we create a world that allows development for all and the flourishing of the ecological system? Over 2013 and 2014, governments and civil society intensely negotiated on the SDGs. The SDGs affirmed that we need a fundamental shift from the present economic paradigm to a new sustainable worldview to protect the whole Earth community.
Mr. Clugston quoted Klaus Bosselmann, a renowned environmental law scholar who has been promoting the Earth Charter for many years:
“The Earth Charter provides a strong definition of sustainable development, recognizing the three standard pillars: social, environmental and economic, but organizing them in a particular way. ‘Environment’ is not merely the resource base for human consumption, not just one of the three factors to be considered. Rather, it incorporates the greater community of life including human beings and the life-support systems on which we all depend. This shift to a broader life-centered perspective marks one key difference between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ sustainability. Furthermore, the social dimension (articulated in the Earth Charter in terms of principles for economic and social justice, democracy, non-violence and peace) represents a set of pre-requisites and goals for sustainable development rather than negotiable or merely optional considerations.”
The Earth itself and the whole community of life have inherited values. Mr. Clugston concluded that we are shifting from an inequitable fossil fuel based world to a better one that is more in line with the vision of the Earth Charter.