The Earth Charter is a declaration of ethical principles which foster sustainable development and a sense of universal responsibility for the Earth. Ten years in the making, the charter was drafted with input from thousands of people drawn mostly from civil organizations all over the world. It consists of 16 main principles:
- Respect the Earth and Life in all its diversity
- Care for the community of Life with understanding, compassion, and love
- Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful
- Secure Earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations
- Protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life
- Prevent harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach
- Adopt patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being
- Advance the study of ecological sustainability and promote the open exchange and wide application of the knowledge acquired
- Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social and environmental imperative.
- Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner
- Affirm gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensure universal access to education, health care, and economic opportunity
- Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities
- Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision making, and access to justice.
- Integrate into formal education and life-long learning the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life
- Treat all living beings with respect and consideration
- Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence, and peace.
The Earth Charter Initiative is a global network of diverse people and institutions that embraces, uses and integrates the Earth Charter.
Rights Of Nature — A Legal Basis for Protecting Our Planet
The concept of Rights of Nature recognizes the Earth and its ecosystems as a living being with inalienable rights: to exist, to live free of cruel treatment, to maintain vital processes necessary for the harmonious balance that supports all life. It advocates creating laws which not only protect these rights but also recognize the authority of individuals, communities, and governments to defend them.
As the Earth Law Center says in this article: “The weaknesses of our environmental laws stem in large part from the fact that our overarching legal system treats the natural world as property that can be exploited and degraded, rather than as an integral ecological partner with its own rights to exist and thrive.”
A Bill of Rights for Nature confers legal status on Nature, changing it from “property” to rights-bearing entity, recognized as a person, with rights and interests.
Rights Of Nature Success Stories
In 2008, Ecuador drafted a new constitution which included the legal acknowledgment of Nature’s inalienable right “to exist, flourish, and evolve”, and conferred upon government and citizens the “duty and right” to file lawsuits for any damage done to ecosystems and natural (i.e. “indigenous”) communities. Ecuador thus became the first country to include Rights for Nature in its national constitution.
The first successful case of Rights of Nature implementation in Ecuador was in Loja, and was centered on a road-widening project which was depositing large quantities of rock and excavation material into a river.
In April 2010, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales Ayma called for a World Conference on Climate Change and The Rights of Mother Earth. Over 35,000 people participated in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and a Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth was formulated.
In New Zealand, the Whanganui River now has legal standing.
In the US, success is being achieved at local community levels, although the primary focus in legal terms has been on the rights of the people within such communities, in terms of health and sustainable energy, rather than on the surrounding natural world itself; as a natural and desired consequence, the local ecosystems end up with rights.
For instance, a community may ban fracking on the basis that it’s polluting the ground water thereby creating a health hazard because the people in that community have a right to safe, clean drinking water; doing this protects the local ecosystem from from the degradation that would have ensued had fracking taken place.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund lists a number of such legal actions.