Reflections on the Launch of the Earth Charter – 29 June 2000 by Mirian Vilela.

The idea to create an Earth Charter emerged out of the Brundtland Commission, theWorld Commission on Environment and Development, from a recommendation made in “Our Common Future Report,” on the need of a new charter to guide nations. This aspiration became part of the preparatory process of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and following this conference, it became a civil society initiative with the support of the Dutch Government (back in 1994). This phase of envisioning the development of the Earth Charter, based on a multi-sectoral and multi-cultural process of consultation, counted with the important role of Jim MacNeill, Secretary-General of World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) and Algerian Diplomat Mohamed Sahnoun, the first Director of the Earth Charter Initiative in early 1994.

After years of dialogue, consultation, research, and drafting, the Earth Charter was launched on 29 June 2000. It was the beginning of a new century and millennium, given the context, in the minds of many there was an echo with the opening of the Earth Charter, “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 great peril and great promise.”

At the launch ceremony, the Earth Charter was first presented to Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands by a young girl, January Juliao (see photo).Ruud F. Lubbers, former Prime Minister of The Netherlands and member of the Earth Charter Commission, was the Master of Ceremonies that day. The event started with brief presentations by the co-chairs of the Earth Charter Commission, Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (Russia); Maurice Strong, UN Secretary General of the 92 Earth Summit and Member of the Brundtland Commission (Canada) and Kamla Chowdhry, founding member, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (India).  Everyone positioned the Earth Charter as a call for action and instrument of hope and stressed the important to “make it happen on the ground.”

This was followed by remarks from Steven C. Rockefeller, co-chair of the Earth Charter Drafting Committee and member of the Earth Charter Commission, offering an overview of the consultation and drafting process and situating the Earth Charter regarding the challenges and possibilities of our times.

The ceremony counted with the participation of individuals from diverse areas of knowledge and institutions that were closely involved in the consultation and drafting process, representatives of indigenous communities and many ambassadors from countries from around the world. Shared vision and collaboration were clearly stated as key ingredients in the process prior to the launch, and in the way ahead.

The shared vision at the launch was for the Earth Charter to contribute to the much needed and urgent “transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework that includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace.” This became the mission set for the Initiative, clearly acknowledging that there are many other important efforts and initiatives working towards a paradigm shift. Hence, The Earth Charter effort was to be seen as part of a bigger movement that seeks and works for social transformation. Its contribution lies in offering an articulation of values and principles that together form an ethical foundation for this great civilizational transition.

The launch event in the Peace Palace in the Hague, counted with reflections and interventions from the following individuals who were part of this process, among others:

  • Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, former prime minister of The Netherlands
  • Parvez Hassan, Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, former Chair IUCN Commission on Environmental Law.
  • Wangari Maathai, founder, Green Belt Movement and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (Kenya)
  • Federico Mayor, former director general UNESCO (Spain)
  • Mohamed Sahnoun, diplomat and Special Representative UN Secretary-General for Somalia in 1992 and the Great Lakes region of Africa in 1997. Member of the Brundtland Commission. (Algeria)
  • Erna Witoelar, former UN Special Ambassador for the Millennium Development Goals (Indonesia)
  • Steven C. Rockefeller, Chair of the EC Drafting Committee and professor of religion (USA)

The event closed with a strong call we find in the concluding words in the Earth Charter:

“Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”

Since this special launch ceremony, 23 years ago, the Earth Charter continues to offer solid ethical foundation and a comprehensive systemic view of the interrelated challenges and opportunities our generation have of building a more just, sustainable and peaceful world. It continues to inspire individuals and organizations across cultures and areas of knowledge and serves as an instrument to nurture a worldview centered in life, in the ethic of care and respect for the community of life.

Our gratitude for those who have been involved and supportive in different ways through the years and our open invitation for individuals and institutions to embrace and use the Earth Charter as an instrument and ethical reference for “Turning Conscience into Action.”

If you are interested in further exploring the context of this special historic moment you can read some of the speeches offered on that occasion. Find them here.

More details on the history of the Earth Charter can be found starting on page 46 of the Earth Charter Initiative Handbook (2010). Click here for that.

Join us for our Webinars tomorrow commemorating this anniversary: