Peter Corcoran on the Earth Charter +5

Peter Corcoran - January, 2006

Guest Column

Peter Blaze Corcoran is Professor of Environmental Studies and Environmental Education at Florida Gulf Coast University. Corcoran is a Senior Advisor to the Earth Charter International Secretariat and is a member of the Earth Charter Education Advisory Committee.

The Earth Charter is a statement of universal ethical principles for building a just, sustainable, peaceful, and participatory global society. It reflects a conviction that if we are to survive and thrive through the 21st century, a radical change is needed in humanity’s attitudes and values. It is a call to action to work for social change through value change, providing us with the means - an alternative value-based ethic. 2001 saw the formal launching of the final draft of the Charter and since then the Earth Charter Initiative (ECI) has been organizing activities to promote its endorsement by various organizations, groups, and governments. 

Peter Corcoran was interviewed by Anita Wenden, Transition Editor, on Earth Charter +5, a meeting organized by the ECI to discuss the impact and future of the Earth Charter. The meeting was held in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) from November 5 – 7.

Why was the meeting called Earth Charter +5? What was its purpose?

To celebrate five years of Earth Charter activity; to convene young people from around the world who constitute the Earth Charter Youth Initiative; and to inaugurate a Third Phase of the Earth Charter with new goals, strategies, priorities, and a reorganized governance structure.

What were some (or one) of the significant outcomes of the meeting?

Unquestionably, the most important outcome was the official launch of a Third Phase in Earth Charter history. The First Phase was the drafting of the Earth Charter document itself, 1994-2000; the Second Phase was the endorsement and implementation of the Earth Charter, 2000-2005. In the Third Phase, the Earth Charter Initiative will develop the Earth Charter into a more powerful and strategic actor in sustainability; we will actively promote the Earth Charter in international law and diplomacy, business, science, and other fields, building on our success in education and local community work. Alan AtKisson of Sweden was named International Transition Director to guide this process.

A collection of over seventy thematic and descriptive essays inspired by the Earth Charter was launched by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands. The Earth Charter in Action: Toward a Sustainable World (KIT Publishers, Amsterdam, 2005) points toward the many possibilities for future utilization to work across faith traditions, nations, and generations, and the northern and southern hemispheres.

What is the status of the EC today? To what extent has it become an actual guide to social planning? in what sectors? Can you add, briefly, an example of an EC success story?

While the Earth Charter is increasingly well accepted, it remains relatively unknown among the general public and is not especially well known even among members of the sustainability community. An important outcome of the Amsterdam meeting was the launch of the major new publication, The Earth Charter in Action: Toward a Sustainable World, to highlight ways in which the Earth Charter can be used. The book is organized by the structure of the Earth Charter and demonstrates a rich diversity of its uses, principle by principle.

Well-known contributors include Homero Aridjis, A.T. Ariyaratne, Princess Basma Bint Talal, Leonardo Boff, Kamla Chowdhry, Jane Goodall, Mikhail Gorbachev, Yolanda Kakabadse, Ruud Lubbers, Wangari Maathai, Federico Mayor, Steven C. Rockefeller, and Erna Witoelar. Contributors are practitioners, experts, and Earth Charter activists from around the world. There is a special emphasis on contributions from youth. All contributors write about the efficacy of the Earth Charter in their experience. 

Strong examples of the usefulness of the Earth Charter in African diplomacy are found in two essays which speak to Principle 16 of the Earth Chater, “Promote a culture of tolerance, non-violence, and peace.” The essays of United Nations Special Representatives of the Secretary General, Ambassador Mohamed Sahnoun, “Degradation of the Environment as the Cause of Violent Conflict,” and Ambassador Jan Pronk, “The Earth Charter as the Basis for a Comprehensive Approach to Conflicts in Sudan” provide compelling examples of the importance of the Earth Charter in international diplomacy.