The Earth Charter is an international declaration of fundamental values and principles considered useful by its supporters for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. Created by a global consultation process, and endorsed by organizations representing millions of people, the Charter “seeks to inspire in all peoples a sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family, the greater community of life, and future generations.”
It calls upon humanity to help create a global partnership at a critical juncture in history. The Earth Charter’s ethical vision proposes that environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development, and peace are interdependent and indivisible. The Charter attempts to provide a new framework for thinking about and addressing these issues.
The idea of the Earth Charter originated in 1987, when the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development called for a new charter to guide the transition to sustainable development. In 1992, the need for a charter was urged by then-Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit
The drafting of the text was done during a six-year worldwide consultation process (1994–2000), overseen by the independent Earth Charter Commission. The Commission continues to serve as the steward of the Earth Charter text.
The final text of the Earth Charter was approved at a meeting of the Earth Charter Commission at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in March 2000. The official launch was on 29 June 2000.
The approximately 2,400 word document is divided into sections (called pillars), which have sixteen main principles containing sixty-one supporting principles. The document opens with a preamble and ends with a conclusion entitled “The Way Forward”.
The Charter has been formally endorsed by organizations representing millions of people, including the UNESCO, over 250 universities around the world, the World Conservation Union of IUCN, the Indian National Capital Territory of Delhi, the 2001 U.S. Conference of Mayors, and dozens of youth organizations.
Various groups from several religions support the Earth Charter. The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations representing over 1000 Unitarian Universalist congregations in the United States supports the measure. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a Catholic organization in the United States approved the measure in 2004. The Diocese of Newark (New Jersey, USA), an Episcopalian Christian organization, recently endorsed the Earth Charter.
Mayor Hsu of Tainan, a city of 750,000 in Taiwan, endorsed the charter in 2007. The cities of Corvallis (Oregon, USA), Berkeley (California, USA), Pickering (Canada) and 21 towns in Vermont (USA) have endorsed the measure.
Engineers Without Borders, an international association whose mission is to help its member groups assist poor communities in their respective countries and around the world, also endorses the Earth Charter. The Green Party of Botswana supports the plan. The African Conservation Foundation describes the Earth Charter movement as a “partner”. In the UK, Bournemouth Borough Council endorsed the Charter in 2008.
The Earth Charter is respectful and inclusive of all religious traditions and the Charter is a statement of common ethical values towards sustainability, that recognizes humanity’s shared responsibility to the Earth and to each other.