Higher Education and the Earth Charter Initiative

The Declaration, Volume 4, Number 1 : October 2000  [Feature]

The year 2002 marks the ten-year anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit. Little progress has been made towards the realization of the program for sustainable development that was committed to by so many governments at that historic meeting. While most environmental trends have grown worse, there have been accomplishments in developing the knowledge and technologies needed for a sustainable future. The theoretical framework and practical models are being clarified; the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities are emerging.

The question increasingly is, can we awaken people to the urgency of the global challenge we face, and mobilize the political will to create a sustainable future before ecological and social disasters make this impossible? The Earth Charter–a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century–helps to envision what the world must become. Completed this year, the Earth Charter has emerged as a potent force for change in the way we think about ourselves and the Earth. It is useful not only as a guide to our governments, institutions and communities, but as a learning tool in our schools and universities.


The Earth Charter seeks to inspire in all people a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family and the larger living world. It is an expression of hope and a call to form a global partnership at a critical juncture in history. The Earth Charter’s inclusive ethical vision recognizes that environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development and peace are interdependent and indivisible. It provides a new framework for thinking about and addressing these issues, and a very broad conception of what constitutes sustainable development.

The drafting of an Earth Charter was part of the unfinished business of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. In 1994 Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the Earth Summit and Chairman of the Earth Council, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the President of Green Cross International, launched a new Earth Charter initiative in The Hague with support from the Dutch government. An Earth Charter Commission was formed in 1997 to oversee the project, and an Earth Charter Secretariat was established at the Earth Council in Costa Rica.

The Earth Charter Initiative has involved the most open and participatory consultation process ever conducted in connection with the drafting of an international document. Thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations from all regions of the world, different cultures and diverse sectors of society have participated. The Charter has been shaped by experts, government and civil society leaders, students, and representatives from indigenous groups and grassroots communities. It is an important expression of the hopes and aspirations of the emerging global society. It is part of a growing worldwide people’s movement pursuing major challenges in our values and institutions in order to ensure a better future for all.

Click here to read the text of the Earth Charter.

A final version of the document was released by the Earth Charter Commission in March 2000. A new phase of the Earth Charter Initiative has begun, which involves circulation of the document as a people’s treaty throughout the world in an effort to promote awareness and commitment to a sustainable way of life.


The mission of the Earth Charter Initiative is to promote a global partnership to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace. Towards this end the Earth Charter provides an integrated ethical vision of shared values that serves as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, organizations, business, governments and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed.


  1. Disseminate the Earth Charter and related materials to leaders and organizations in civil society, business and governments throughout the world.
  2. Promote the use of the Earth Charter as an educational tool.
  3. Obtain broad endorsement and implementation of the Earth Charter.
  4. Seek endorsement of the Earth Charter by the United Nations General Assembly in the year 2002.


  • as an educational tool in schools, universities, faith communities, businesses, and other organizations. Discussion of the Earth Charter can heighten awareness of the basic challenges and choices that face humanity. It can help people learn to think globally and holistically, and to understand the fundamental commitments that sustainable development entails. It can serve as a catalyst for cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue on shared values and global ethics.
  • as a call to action and guide to a sustainable way of life that inspires hope, commitment, a sense of global citizenship, and a spirit of cooperation.
  • as a values framework for sustainable development plans at all levels and for preparing professional codes of conduct.
  • as a soft law instrument that provides an ethical foundation for the ongoing development of environmental and sustainable development law.
  • as an instrument for promoting accountability and assessing progress towards sustainability in businesses, communities, nations and the world at large.

The Earth Charter Initiative is inviting many groups and organizations in civil society, business and government to consider how the Earth Charter is relevant to their activities and how they can implement Earth Charter principles. Endorsement of the Earth Charter is under consideration in a number of international organizations, such as World Conservation Union. Various organizations have already publicly endorsed the Earth Charter, such as the Sierra Club, Green Cross International and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.

For the next two years, the Earth Charter Initiative shall pursue a set of strategic projects, which were launched at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands on June 29, 2000. These focus on: Education; Religion and Spirituality; Business and Professional Accountability; Peace Initiatives; Youth; Indigenous Peoples; and Government. This article focuses on the Education project.


Conducted by ULSF, the Earth Council and other organizations, this project will develop and disseminate a range of educational materials for all ages to promote understanding of the global challenges we face, the values and principles contained in the Earth Charter, and how the Earth Charter can be used to help bring about the transformations necessary to attain a more sustainable way of living. The goals of the Education Project include the development and dissemination of the following:

  1. Background resource material, including:
  • Briefing book that provides basic background on the history, objectives, leaders, sponsors and projects of the Earth Charter initiative for the general public, organizations, and the press.
  • Video showing the goals, importance, people and projects involved in the Earth Charter initiative.
  • Book of essays on the legal, scientific, ethical, religious and other foundations of the Earth Charter. The authors will reflect diverse cultural perspectives and represent key sectors. It will include a comprehensive bibliography on sources.
  • Commentary on the Earth Charter that details the sources of the values and principles, the dialogue surrounding the consultation process, and a comparison with existing international agreements and declarations.
  • Compendium of interviews have been undertaken and are being processed for publication. The theme is on Global Proposals for the Third Millennium. These will bring together the views of key leaders with regards to the Earth Charter Initiative and related movements.
  • Searchable bibliography that students can use to research the Earth Charter and related materials through the Earth Charter website.
  1. Curriculum material, classroom work sheets, and teacher training resources for primary and high school levels, and disseminate these materials in partnership with education organizations. This involves as a first step the production of an “Earth Charter Resource Booklet for Education of Children.” Curricula for children and youth based on the Earth Charter have already been developed and utilized in the public schools of Costa Rica, Australia and Italy.
  2. Resources for college level curriculum on the Earth Charter. Utilize course materials developed by ULSF on this topic, working with UNESCO and drawing upon material currently under development by various education partners.
  3. Earth Charter Facilitator’s Kit, designed to assist individuals and organizations to teach a class and conduct workshops, or study groups on the Earth Charter.


We live in a world increasingly characterized by interdependence, where the problems of poverty, environmental degradation, war, injustice, social alienation, and spiritual crisis are intricately interconnected. If we are to be successful in addressing these critical problems, the human family must develop a sense of universal responsibility, one that builds solidarity among people and a sense of kinship with all life. The Earth Charter Initiative can assist in awakening these values and providing a blueprint to a compassionate and sustainable future for all life on earth.

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