World Citizens

International agreements are one way of addressing environmental issues.

The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, was the first major international agreement aimed at protecting the natural environment (figure 1). 

This was followed by the Montreal Protocol (1987) which phased out the production of gases which were depleting the ozone layer. Since then governments around the world have tried to co-operate on other environmental issues.  The Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit (1992) was a landmark event which laid down principles for partnerships on the environment and development. The Kyoto Protocol (2008) and the Paris Climate agreement (2015) built on these achievements by establishing targets designed to limit carbon emissions and keep global warming below two degrees centigrade (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Twelve nations signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, since when it has been renewed and extended several times.

Governments and international organisations have the power to pass laws to protect the environment but depend on political support.  They are also strongly influenced by business interests.  In an economic system where the natural world has no particular monetary value, the problem is that measures to protect the environment are often not given the priority they deserve.

The growth in market forces over recent years has made matters worse as transnational corporations have huge power.  Some people think that the laws which require businesses to make money in order to pay shareholders need to be changed.  They argue that the wealth that businesses create should also be shared amongst workers, local communities, governments and future generations.

Consumer campaigns are one way to change economic and political priorities.  For example, when public opinion is mobilised, as in the case of plastic waste, it can have a big impact.  Here again, though, the support of government is crucial.  International governance is thus crucially important to the sustainability agenda. 

1) Find out about how world population is changing


2) Now read the preamble to The Earth Charter and discuss what you think about it.

We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

Earth, Our Home
Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life's evolution. The resilience of the community of life and the well-being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air. The global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples. The protection of Earth's vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.

The Global Situation
The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. Communities are being undermined. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause of great suffering. An unprecedented rise in human population has overburdened ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are threatened. These trends are perilous—but not inevitable.

The Challenges Ahead
The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life. Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living. We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more. We have the knowledge and technology to provide for all and to reduce our impacts on the environment. The emergence of a global civil society is creating new opportunities to build a democratic and humane world. Our environmental, economic, political, social, and spiritual challenges are interconnected, and together we can forge inclusive solutions.

Universal Responsibility
To realize these aspirations, we must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities. We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked. Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world. The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in nature.

We urgently need a shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community. Therefore, together in hope we affirm the following interdependent principles for a sustainable way of life as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, organizations, businesses, governments, and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed.charter.

"I am citizen, not of Greece or Athens, but the world."

Socrates (Philosopher)

"The new world order that is in the making must focus on the making of a world democracy, peace and prosperity for all."

Nelson Mandela (Politician)

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead (Anthropologist)

a) Why do governments find it so hard to stand up to business interests?

b) How can international agreements be enforced?

Kelly M. (2003) The Divine Right of Capital, San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Kochler

Goodman, M. and Thornton, J. (2017) Client Earth, London: Scribe

Thunberg, G. (2019) No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, London; Penguin

Global Goals »

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Last edited: 20/11/2019 08:53:00