Let this Century be the Century of the Rights of Mother Earth: Strengthening Global Governance is Key to Ensuring a Sustainable Future
Washington, DC- On April 22, Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS) joins the United Nations and civil society throughout the world in celebrating International Mother Earth Day. On April 22, 2009, the Bolivian government proposed a resolution that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declaring every April 22 to be International Mother Earth Day. The resolution calls for “acknowledging that the Earth and its ecosystems are our home” and “promot(ing) harmony with nature and the Earth” to adequately address our environmental, economic, and social needs.
Evo Morales, the former President of Bolivia, strongly supported the adoption of this resolution, asserting during a meeting with the UNGA that “the twenty-first century is the century of the rights of Mother Earth and of all living beings.” During his speech, President Morales also stressed the importance of four, critical rights to which Mother Earth and all life on Earth are entitled: the right to life, the right to regenerate its biodiversity, the right to live a clear life (free of pollution and toxins), and the right to “harmony and balance with and among all and everything” (recognizing the interdependence of all life on Earth.) Furthermore, President Morales called for the incorporation of these four principles in the “Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth,” which was prepared during the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, hosted in Bolivia in 2010.
CGS and Young World Federalists (YWF) unconditionally support the principles and priorities enshrined in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, and we strongly believe that ensuring a sustainable future for present and future generations can only be achieved by strengthening global governance and international environmental cooperation. Ramesh Thakur, former UN Assistant Secretary-General, argues that the “global governance deficit,” or the lack of global institutions that implement, interpret, and enforce international environmental laws and treaties, is among the factors that impede meaningful international action to address the climate crisis. Furthermore, Thakur asserts that a world order based on absolute national sovereignty- where countries are not held responsible for violating their environmental commitments- is a key cause of this lack of global environmental governance since it encourages political leaders to prioritize their own political interests over the well-being of Mother Earth.
How can we foster international cooperation and bolster global governance to address the climate crisis? One possible path forward is strengthening existing global governance institutions. This includes empowering the UNGA to pass binding international resolutions driving global emissions reduction efforts, particularly on the part of high emitting countries like the US and China.
Another pathway is to support and strengthen international legal institutions’ capacity to hold perpetrators accountable for environmental crimes. The Rome Statute, the foundational treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC), notably includes environmental destruction within the definition of war crimes [Art 8.2(b)(iv)].Beginning in 2016, the Court announced that it would begin “considering cases involving environmental destruction, misuse of land, and land grabs as crimes against humanity.” The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) also has communicated its intent “to cooperate and provide assistance to States, upon request, with respect to conduct which constitutes a serious crime under national law, such as . . . destruction of the environment.” Despite these notable steps, there are increasing calls to include “the crime of ecocide” as a stand-alone crime via amendment to the Rome Statute. To this end, the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide, convened by the Stop Ecocide Foundation, formulated a draft definition of the crime, which would place ecocide on equal footing with the four crimes within the Court’s current jurisdiction: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.
Establishing the international crime of ecocide also is a key recommendation of the Environmental Governance track of the Global Futures Forum (GFF), a civil society-led conference last March which convened hundreds of NGOs and individuals from around the world to further civil society and youth input in the Summit of the Future.
An additional environmental governance recommendation from the GFF is to encourage the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to more frequently address environmental issues. While the ICJ has heard cases touching on environmental matters, beginning with the notable Nicaragua v. Costa Rica judgment (holding that Nicaragua had a duty to compensate Costa Rica for “major environmental damages to its territory,” the Court has yet to deploy a powerful potential tool for environmental justice: Currently, the ICJ’s Chamber for Environmental Matters, established in 1993, has still not heard an environmental case due in part to states’ reluctance to classify a dispute as essentially “environmental” in nature.Furthermore, a UNGA resolution last month, sponsored by Vanuatu – an island country that has disproportionately experienced the effects of the climate crisis – could signify a decisive turning point regarding the ICJ’s involvement in environmental matters. Specifically, the resolution empowers the UNGA to seek ICJ adjudication in cases concerning countries’ commitments to address climate change and where countries intentionally or negligently cause environmental degradation that affects other countries’ environmental well-being, especially nations that are most vulnerable to climate change, like island countries.
Promoting meaningful international climate action may also require creating new global governance institutions, such as an International Court for the Environment. Experts have proposed a “Climate Club” that would establish a single international target carbon price and sanction non compliant countries and countries that do not participate. Furthermore, the Environmental Governance track of the GFF called for the establishment of an “Earth Governance Regulatory Body,” which would pursue a global Decarbonization Agenda to promote a just transition to a more sustainable economy.
We at CGS and YWF are confident that the 21st century will be, as Evo Morales declared, “the century of the rights of Mother Earth and of all living beings.” Yet ensuring a sustainable future for all who call Mother Earth their home will require unprecedented, yet necessary, international action to address the climate crisis. And that starts with strengthening global environmental governance.
“Earth Day cannot be a moment for reflection alone. It must compel action. As Wendell Berry cogently stated ‘the Earth is all we have in common.’ It is our shared responsibility as a global family to embrace the theme of 2023 Earth Day and invest in our planet.” – Rebecca A. Shoot, Executive Director, Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS)
About Citizens for Global Solutions & Young World Federalists
Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS) is a non-governmental, non-profit, non-partisan membership-based organization that for more than 75 years has brought together a diverse collective of individuals and organizations with a common goal of a unified world predicated upon peace, human rights, and the rule of law. From championing ratification of the UN Charter upon our establishment in 1947 to supporting creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) 25 years ago to advocating for global instruments to confront today’s enduring challenges of war and climate degradation, CGS recognizes that true progress is a generational enterprise. We invite like-minded individuals and organizations to join us in this mission.
The Young World Federalists (YWF) are a global movement fighting to give humanity a voice. We envision a sustainable, just, and peaceful world through a democratic world federation. A world run by humanity, for humanity, providing equal opportunity to all on a thriving planet. YWF is currently engaged in a #SaveEarth campaign, which is focused on prosecuting crimes against the environment, taking effective action on climate change, and building a sustainable economy.
Contact: Rebecca Shoot firstname.lastname@example.org