' After four years of slow progress, civil society groups are on their way to presenting a universal declaration of environmental rights before the United Nations.
By Néfer Muñoz
Various sectors of civil society from around the world came up with the idea of a universal declaration of environmental rights, known as the Earth Charter, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro in 1997.
SAN JOSE, (Tierramérica).- After four years of slow progress, its proponents now hope to revive the initiative and present it to the United Nations (UN) in 2002.
''This charter is not a utopia, but human beings could not live without the dream of a better life,'' Brazilian expert Miriam Vilela, executive director of the San Jose-based Earth Charter Secretariat, told Tierramérica.
The document's promoters hope that the text, the final version of which was approved by delegates meeting in the Netherlands last year, will be officially adopted by countries, universities and organizations worldwide, as well as by the UN.
''So far, the process has been difficult due to the lack of political will among governments,'' reported Vilela, who will this year lead an extensive campaign to promote the Charter internationally.
This environmental code of conduct was the brainchild of delegates at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, but the lack of agreement has slowed its finalization.
Shortly after the idea was founded, Maurice Strong, secretary-general of the Earth Summit, and Mikhail Gorbachev, founder of Green Cross International, presented a new approach, with the support of the Dutch government.
In 1997, a first draft made its debut during the Earth Summit + Five, in Rio de Janeiro. A commission was then formed to guide the project, and the Earth Charter Secretariat was established as part of the Earth Council, an international, non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Costa Rica.
In the following years, civil society groups drafted texts with suggestions from university professors, researchers, environmentalists and other experts.
Consensus has been difficult because a broad array of interests is at stake in attempting to preserve the earth's resources, Vilela pointed out. For example, one draft called for compassion towards animals, but residents of Arctic regions argued that if the idea were taken to the extreme, they would not be able to feed themselves.
Once the innumerable differences were reconciled, the final text was written up, with four chapters: ecological integrity; community respect and care for life; social and economic justice; and democracy, non-violence and peace.
According to the Charter's preamble, the dominant models of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, depletion of resources and massive extinction of species.
The text contains 16 articles which maintain that environmental protection, human rights, equitable development and world peace are interdependent and indivisible.
It also stipulates the need for countries to adopt, at all levels, sustainable development plans and regulations that permit the inclusion of environmental conservation and rehabilitation as integral parts of all development initiatives.
But some environmentalists believe it is unlikely - under current circumstances - that massive support for the initiative can be achieved.
Jorge Cabrera, environmental lawyer and author of the Costa Rican Biodiversity Law, told Tierramérica that the Charter is a good idea, but has scant impact and limited reception.
''The environmental sector is concentrated on ensuring that what little has been approved is achieved. Even within the environmental movement itself there are few people who are aware of the Charter's contents,'' Cabrera explained.
But the promoters of the document believe that this situation is not a disadvantage, but rather an incentive to globally promote the final text and raise international awareness.
Various international groups, among them the Green Cross International, the Amazonian Parliament, the UN's University for Peace, and even the Millennium Forum, which covers a thousand NGOs, have already adopted the Earth Charter.
''We have to achieve that countries commit themselves to it, because this is a major effort toward human coexistence and the conservation of resources,'' affirmed Abelardo Brenes, professor at the University for Peace.
* Néfer Muñoz is an IPS correspondent