Environmental, peace charter aims for U.N. endorsement

Monica LaBelle

The advocates for a document that outlines principles for sustaining the environment and working toward world peace hope to have it endorsed by the United Nations, they said while meeting at the University on Saturday.

Supporters of the Earth Charter gathered at the Carlson School of Management on Saturday for the Earth Charter Summit in an effort to celebrate the little-known charter that aims to gain a worldwide following and endorsement from the United Nations.

“We want the summit to be not just a one-day thing, but a momentum for movement in the community,” said Nancy Dunlavy, a Minneapolis Earth Charter Summit organizer. “We want it to be studied in schools.”

Earth Charter supporters said they had hoped to have it endorsed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development last month in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Jack Heckelman, president emeritus of the Alliance for a Sustainable Future, said the Earth Charter was referred to in the South African summit, but the endorsement was decided against in closed-door sessions for reasons he did not know.

After years of start-and-stop attempts at creating the Earth Charter, it was completed March 24, 2000.

In 1987, the U.N. World Commission on Environment and Development defined what a sustainable future is for the earth and issued a proposal. The WCED asked for the creation of “new norms Ö needed to maintain livelihoods and life on our shared planet” and “to guide state behavior in the transition to sustainable development.”

Miki Fujisawa, a College of Liberal Arts academic adviser and summit facilitator, said everyone can live by the charter.

“It seems to most people that those kind of issues are controlled by the people at the top, but in reality, they are not,” Fujisawa said. “There are lots of things we can do. Like try to reduce the waste, the garbage.”

The U.N. WCED began to draft the Earth Charter at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, but it was soon abandoned. Environmental issues were brought forth in the Rio Declaration but lacked strong environmental support in the World Charter.

The Earth Council was formed in 1994 with the leadership of Maurice Strong and Mikhail Gorbachev, who is president of Green Cross International. Political leaders from countries such as the Netherlands and Algeria were among the initiators of what is now the Earth Charter. Former Vice President Al Gore supported the Earth Charter in its development.

After research in science, ethics, the environment and international law was conducted, the drafting of the Earth Charter began.

Representatives from Asia, Europe, South America, North America, Africa and the Middle East made up the international drafting committee, formed in 1996.

The final document contains general statements supporting the following: “respect and care for the community of life,” “ecological integrity,” “social and economic justice” and “democracy, nonviolence and peace.”

Now people behind the Earth Charter – such as grass roots environmental groups, religious and political leaders – aim to make the document and its declarations well-known throughout the world.

If adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, the charter would have the same status as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a “soft law” or guideline intended for the further development of U.N. members.

The Earth Charter Summit that took place in Minneapolis on Saturday also occured in 23 other cities in the United States.

In the meantime, Minneapolis residents attending Saturday’s summit had a chance to promote the Earth Charter and explain how they apply it in their own lives.

“I need to worry about how I dispose of waste. I need to control my judgment about other people. I need to educate myself about the issues. I need to speak out Ö instead of saying, ‘well, somebody else is going to do that.’ I have to write my senator and write the president and express my views,” said Kwabena Siaka, a College of Education graduate student.

Kristi Rudelius Palmer, co-director of the University’s Human Rights Center and a speaker at the summit, said the charter draws from elements of other international treaties and documents.

“This charter actually puts together a lot of what has been put into other international treaties and documents that provide a really good foundation for both international law and the moral education and our value structure,” she said.