Earth Systems Treaty: John Hewson calls for action on ‘mega threats’

Sep 25, 2023
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Former Liberal party leader John Hewson, in a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, enquired why the United Nations was not acting on proposals to deal with a series of well documented and interacting catastrophic threats.

Three recent books, two of them by Australians, have highlighted the predicament our human species is now facing, and the need for very substantial change in the way we organise human society.

I am referring here, first to the book by a group of international experts, writing for The Club of Rome in 2022: “Earth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity”. second to Canberra science writer, Julian Cribb’s 2023 most recent book, “How to fix a Broken Planet,” and also to the 2023 book by social science academics, Mark Diesendorf and Rod Taylor. “The Path to Sustainable Civilisation: Technological, Socioeconomic and Political Change”.

The clear view outlined in each of these three books, is that without major change in the way we humans currently operate, the generations which follow us are facing a bleak future and quite possibly, extinction. It is worth noting that the Club of Rome document, draws particular attention to the very serious consequences of widespread poverty and inequality between nations, and between subgroups within nations.

Writing in The Saturday Paper recently, former politician, John Hewson, who leads a Council for The Human Future, (CHF) commented positively on Cribb’s proposal for a comprehensive Earth System Treaty (EST) that, initially, all countries could commit to, and that would present an opportunity for business and various civil society organisations to follow suit. The essence of such a treaty would be plans to deal effectively with a series of well documented and interacting catastrophic threats that are not yet being adequately addressed by governments anywhere on earth.

In Cribb’s view, an effective Earth System Treaty would include:

  • A universal ban on nuclear weapons.
  • An international plan to combat climate change.
  • An international plan to restore forests, soils, fresh waters, oceans, atmosphere and biodiversity, to stable and sustainable levels.
  • An international agreement to operate a circular economy and end waste.
  • A plan for a renewable world food supply, sufficient for all.
  • A plan to end chemical pollution in all forms.
  • A plan to reduce the human population voluntarily to a sustainable level.
  • A global plan to anticipate and prevent pandemic disease.
  • A global technology convention to oversee the safe development and introduction of advanced sciences and technologies and minimise harms.
  • A World Truth Commission.
  • An Earth Standard Currency.
  • All seventeen of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The idea behind the Treaty is that all signatory nations would bind themselves to accepting its standards and promoting them both internally and to others. Inviting individuals also to sign the treaty, will call on the enormous power and genius of grassroots humanity to implement it – as well as signalling that individuals as well as nations and corporations are expected to play their part in rescuing humanity. Above all, an Earth System Treaty will seek to keep human activity within safe boundaries set by the operation of the Earth System itself, as has been widely documented by the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Now, all of that is a pretty tall order, and it is perhaps not surprising that governments are not rushing to be involved in such a Treaty. But if the alternative to such developments is the likely early extinction of the human species, – and in my personal judgement, it is precisely that – governments should be falling over themselves to engage in such a development.

John Hewson, in a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, enquired why the United Nations was not acting along such lines. Guterres has certainly been making loud noises about failure to address a number of the catastrophic threats to which we are exposing ourselves.

The understandable response that Hewson received, was that the UN can only do what member nations propose and agree should be done.

Members of the CHF have proposed to the Australian Prime Minister’s Department, that Australia is well placed to initiate global discussion about such an all-encompassing Treaty, within the UN community.

And we are also suggesting to local politicians that The Legislative Assembly in the ACT could play a helpful role, by holding an ACT Citizen Assembly to explore the potential costs and benefits of this proposition.

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