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With the hurricane flurry of activity here in Johannesburg between United Nations delegates, major groups, 700 non-governmental organizations and numerous transnational corporations, more and more, it is becoming apparent that Agenda 21, the key environmental supporting document made public in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, is a“world constitution” by which the world is in the process of being re-ordered.Furthermore, it is in the process of being incorporated into a new discipline of international law, which also incorporates the principles of the Earth Summit.

The motto here is “from words into action.” An environmental philosophy that usurps the Christian worldview has been put in place over the last thirty years and now it is implementation time.But how do you implement?Law.Nothing happens until Agenda 21 is turned into law.Johannesburg marks the official launch of International Sustainable Development Law that will govern the implementation of sustainable development.This new discipline is based on poverty alleviation and the rights of the marginalized (transfer of wealth).

Over 150 environmental lawyers and related disciplines from all over the world met in Durban a week before the Summit to discuss the integration of environmental, economic and social laws into one new discipline known as International Sustainable Development Law.Here in Johannesburg, the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law put forth a policy paper, Weaving the Rules for Our Common Future:Principles, Practice and Prospects for International Sustainable Development Law, that they hope will be viewed as the framework for a Treaty on International Sustainable Development Law.Their actions reaffirm Chapter 39 of Agenda 21 which recognizes the need to continue progressive development and codification of international law related to sustainable development.Furthermore, it should be understood that these international laws would be incorporated locally and nationally in every nation-state. 

Furthermore the international lawyers support the seven principles incorporated in the 2002 New Delhi International Law Association Declaration on Principles of International Law which include the duty of States to ensure sustainable use of natural resources, the eradication of poverty, the principle of good governance and other social, economic and environmental objectives.

In order to understand the new international legal framework put forth in Agenda 21, it is necessary to review some of the activities which have brought us to this point and to review the Earth Charter that is a key philosophical component on which international sustainable development law is based.

In 1962, the UN general Assembly passed a resolution for governments to integrate natural resource protection measures at the earliest stages of economic development. In 1968, a second resolution by the UN General Assembly pledged to find solution to problems related to the environment.In 1972, the UN hosted the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm that recognized a special responsibility to safeguard and manage the heritage of wildlife and its habitat.

Sustainable development first became popular first as a result of the report by the World Commission on Environment and Development, also referred to as the Brundtland Commission.Their report, known as Our Common Future, clarified and defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”According to Weaving the Rules for Our Common Future: Principles, Practice and Prospects for International Sustainable Development Law, it also called for A WORLD POLITICAL TRANSFORMATION BASED ON THE CONCEPT OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT and recognized the interrelationships among environment, development and energy crises facing the world at that time.Furthermore, the formulation of sustainable development is a political and social construct, not a scientific blueprint.

The Brundtland Commission also issued a call for the creation of a new charter that would set forth fundamental principles for sustainable development.Known as the Earth Charter, Maurice Strong of the Earth Council and Mikhail Gorbachev’s Green Cross International along with the Dutch Government in 1994 undertook the task.In 1997, an Earth Charter Commission was formed to oversee the project and draft the charter.After three years, a final version was released in March 2000 and in 2001, it was presented to Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

The Earth Charter states that it is “a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century.It seeks to inspire in all peoples a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well being of the human family and the larger living world.”In the preamble, it states that the Earth is our home, it is alive and that the protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity and beauty is a sacred trust.Furthermore it states, “Dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation.Basically it affirms the pagan Gaia religion.

International law has changed in two important ways.First as a result of the public-private partnership arrangements first unveiled at the Habitat II conference in 1996, the world has slowly been changing from the governmental structure you and I have known to a new form that consists of partnerships between States and non-state actors such as inter-governmental organizations, civil society and private businesses and foundations. NGO’s have now emerged as a new standard of legitimate decision-making at the international level.This is called “multilateral/multi-stakeholder governance.Both the 1972 and the 1992 conferences contributed towards the development of this new partnership structure. Here in Johannesburg over 200 public-private partnerships have already been announced.As a result, international law is no longer dependent on treaties for creating law but is being redefined to include actors other than States among those who make international norms and who implement and comply with them, and to include legal instruments that may not be formally binding.

Second, international sustainable development law is based on the pagan philosophies incorporated in The Earth Charter.This is extremely important because it constitutes a final shift from a Christian based worldview and corresponding set of laws to one in which the environment will dictate how we live, where we live, what we will be and what we will believe.

Lastly, there are hopes that the Earth Charter will be mentioned in the political declaration coming out of Johannesburg to confirm and reaffirm its principles.There are those who say that will never happen.We will see.