We need an Earth System Treaty to save civilisation. And we need it now

Jul 22, 2023
World globe on a background made of flags.

The world stands in urgent need of a universal accord to ensure it remains a Planet that our children and grandchildren can inhabit and enjoy, far into the future.

At present the Earth system is breaking down, due to ten massive threats that are the direct result of human activity, our excessive numbers, over-consumption and over-pollution. There is no universal plan to prevent and reverse such a catastrophic event – or even talks on a world agreement to do so.

The Council for the Human Future has proposed we adopt an Earth System Treaty. This is a global legal accord, to be negotiated, signed and ratified by all the nations of the Earth, under the UN umbrella.

Once declared, the Treaty must then be available for voluntary signature by all individual citizens, corporations, nongovernment bodies and other groups, organisations and agencies worldwide, so that everyone who so wishes may have a chance to pledge their commitment to a habitable Planet and the safer future it affords for humans and all other life.

The purpose of the Treaty is to provide an international legal framework for protecting and restoring the Earth System, so that humans can inhabit it indefinitely. It is a global instrument for achieving human survival and wellbeing and for caring for the planet and its systems that sustain life.

Such a Treaty will set standards, objectives and scientifically-defined boundaries that all can follow and abide by.

Several forms of global treaty have been proposed, but none so far encompasses all ten of the catastrophic threats that constitute the present human existential emergency, or tries to integrate their solutions. Most refer chiefly to climate change and environmental decline, but overlook questions such as global poisoning, overpopulation, food security, nuclear weapons, resource scarcity, pandemics, ultra-technology and misinformation. Unless all ten megathreats are addressed, together, the survival of human civilisation remains in doubt.

A truly effective Earth System Treaty will embrace:

– A universal ban on nuclear weapons (as proposed in the current treaty)

– An international plan to combat climate change

– An international plan to restore forests, soils, fresh waters, oceans, atmosphere and

biodiversity to stable, sustainable levels and end extinction

– 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 universal chemical pollution in all forms.

– A plan to reduce the human population voluntarily to a sustainable level.

– A plan to anticipate and prevent future pandemic diseases.

– A Global Technology Convention to oversee the safe development and introduction of

Dangerous new sciences and technologies and minimise the harms they cause.

– A World Truth Commission, to combat and expose the lies and disinformation

– An Earth Standard Currency

– All 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals

– All 16 of the principles enunciated in the Earth Charter

– All of the Safe Global Boundaries described by the Stockholm resilience Institute.

The Earth System Treaty gives voice and action to the desire of people to survive the chaos and damage caused by human overshoot of the Earth’s capacity to sustain us. It is a legal instrument which commits us to saving our children and grandchildren, and the world they will inhabit.

The Earth Charter, put forward in 1994 to unify humanity around a common set of values, is an inspiring statement of principle – but it has no legal force and is non-binding on the many organisations that have endorsed it. It is not open for individuals to sign. And it is silent on some of the megathreats. Likewise, the Sustainable Development Goals are a “call to action”, not a binding agreement or pledge to act. They both ignore overpopulation, misinformation and nuclear war.

The Earth System Treaty is radically different to all previous international agreements because it allows individuals to sign it. This Treaty will marshall the enormous power and genius of grassroots humanity to make it happen – as well as signal to all governments and corporations that most people want and are determined to survive the collapse of civilisation which is now widely predicted.

Let the people decide the human future – not just the greedy and powerful. An Earth System Treaty will be the most potent expression of the will of the people ever to occur in world history. It offers even people living in autocratic and repressive countries a voice. It is a first step on the road to global democracy. It is a milestone to our becoming one people on one planet.

Figure 1. The Nine Safe Planetary Boundaries. Humans have already entered the danger zone of five of them. Source: Stockholm Institute 2023. Image: Supplied

Especially, an Earth System Treaty will seek to keep human activity within the safe boundaries set by the Earth System itself, as the Stockholm Resilience Centre has proposed. Humanity has already entered the danger zone for: destruction of the biosphere, climate change, land clearing, and excessive chemical flows such as nitrogen, phosphorus and novel toxics.

The Safe Planetary Boundaries are important because they are objective, defined by scientific measurement and validation – not by opinion, political lobbying, religious or economic self-interest. Humanity must have a reliable way to measure our impact on the planet – and how risky it is becoming – in order to plan our way out of danger. Or else we will fail.

No country or group of countries has a plan for saving civilisation and our species from the combined megathreats. Consequently, all are now engaged in making the danger worse. It is their actual policy to do so, whatever they may claim to be doing. An Earth System Treaty will be a wake-up call for the nations of the world to start focussing on the real issue, human survival on a habitable Planet, and to take well-considered action.

To propose an Earth System Treaty in the United Nations requires only one country to have the wisdom, integrity and vision to set aside short-term national self-interest and look instead to the interests of a common humanity surviving on a habitable Earth.

Does such a country exist?


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