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October 11, 2018

The Earth Trusteeship Initiative and The Hague Principles

By Klaus Bosselmann, 10 October 2018.

Who owns the Earth? We all do. Or more correctly, none of us does. Earth is there for her own sake and not for us. But we can’t do without her. All life depends on Earth’s life-supporting systems. Yet, human development has reached a critical point that threatens the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems. As Earth System sciences show us, human activities have led to tipping points, particularly with respect to the integrity of the biosphere and the atmosphere.

The sustainability of Earth’s ecological systems depends on their integrity. Correspondingly, the sustainability of humanity’s social and economic systems depends on their integrity, i.e. on their functioning for a set purpose. We don’t seem to care however. Our legal system operates as if there is no need for the sustainability and integrity of the Earth system. Laws protect and serve the well-being of people – some more than others, but have little regard for the well-being of future generations, other species and the Earth as a whole. Governance is largely organised and performed through sovereign states that compete rather than co-operate and, in this way, concern themselves with achieving short-term national goals. Earth is taken for granted and – like future generations – has no voice in either national or international decision-making. The world’s legal system is not geared for listening to Earth (who of course speaks to us in her own voice).

Yet, many people have become aware of this kind of collective deafness. They want to give Earth a voice and hence see themselves as guardians or trustees of Earth. Earth trusteeship is a reflection of responsible citizenship, as it promotes caring for Earth to the level of legal significance.

Trusteeship is a form of governance that requires a person or entity to act (as ‘trustee’) on behalf and for the benefit of another person or entity (‘beneficiary’). Arguably, the very institutions that act on behalf of and for citizens, i.e. states and governments, have trusteeship responsibilities. It couldn’t work any other way.

Humanity’s common destiny depends on the validity and effectiveness of human rights and Earth trusteeship. To be effective, citizens and their institutions will have to act as trustees of the Earth. That is trusteeship of what generically can be referred to as the ‘common good’.

The inextricable connections between rights, responsibilities and trusteeship are at the heart of the Earth Trusteeship Initiative, a consortium of social and environmental justice organisations aiming for legal innovation. Its first objective has been achieved now – a joint declaration on trusteeship responsibilities for both human rights and sustainability, called The Hague Principles for a Universal Declaration on Human Responsibilities and Earth Trusteeship. The “Hague Principles” will be presented at the Earth Trusteeship Forum in the Peace Palace, The Hague, on 10 December 2018, to mark the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to launch a global initiative towards Earth Trusteeship.

Participants gather in the garden of Elizabeth Vreedehuis in Den Haag, The Netherlands, at the Earth Trusteeship Initiative gathering on 22 & 23 June 2018

The Hague Principles and their launch on 10th December are the result of a collaboration between representatives of a wide spectrum of environmental, indigenous and human rights organisations under the auspices of the Earth Trusteeship Initiative. The collaboration started with an Earth Trusteeship Symposium at Utrecht University in June 2017. This was followed by various consultations and drafts around human rights and responsibilities and eventually led to an Earth Trusteeship Gathering of 80 delegates in The Hague in June 2018. Following further consultations, the text of the Hague Principles was finalised in September.

The objective now is to garner world-wide support. The impact of the 10 December Forum and subsequent events and activities will be substantially increased, if the Hague Principles are endorsed by a significant spectrum of global civil society. To this end, over a hundred organisations have been invited to endorse the Hague Principles (via www.earthtrusteeship.world, which will be launched at the end of October 2018) and to attend the Earth Trusteeship Forum. The invitation has been made by the Earth Trusteeship Initiative in partnership with ELGA, Earth Charter International, WWF, the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law, the World Future Council and seven other co-sponsoring organisations.

ELGA members have been instrumental in organising the Earth Trusteeship Initiative and in the drafting of the Hague Principles.

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