The Earth Charter is a declaration of international values and principles thought to be a necessary for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful future. The idea of a Charter originated in 1987, when the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development called for a new charter regarding fundamental principles for sustainable development. In 1992, the need for a charter was urged by then-Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali at the Rio de Janiero Earth Summit. In 1994, the Earth Charter Initiative was formed by Canadian Maurice Strong, secretary general of the Earth Summit and chairman of the Earth Counsel, Mikhail Gorbachev, who was then president of Green Cross International, with support with the government of The Netherlands. The document was drafted from early 1997 to March 2000, through an international, open process. It has not yet been endorsed by the United Nations, although the Earth Charter Organization is attempting to gain its international support.
The Earth Charter urges environmental responsibility, peaceful coexistence, respect for life, democracy, and justice. It is organized into 16 general headings, each covering a general principle, as follows:
- Respect 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.
- 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.
- 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 lifelong 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.
In the United States, members of the Religious Right have found the document alarming, in part because it is secular, and therefore contains no reference to the doctrines of Judeo-Christianity. In addition, some conservatives cite a statement by Gorbachev that the document is "a kind of Ten Commandments", and the fact that at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, a copy of the document was placed symbolically in an "Ark of Hope" which resembles the Ark of the Covenant. Thus, some see the Charter as a proposed replacement for the Ten Commandments, and part of a conspiracy to establish a New World Religion that replaces Christianity.