In recent years there has been an increasing awareness and interest in the extent to which humanity is, or is not, living within the carrying capacity or exceeding the natural boundaries of the earth. As concerned citizens and expert organizations we have come together to suggest that the SDGs must fundamentally address these concerns.
We thus recommend that the United Nations develop and adopt an SDG that recognizes the Earth’s System as a Common Heritage of humanity, and as a global commons, that is to be protected and equitably shared by all people.
II. Discussion and Rationale
There are diverse levels at which this SDG must be implemented and achieved:
1. By government at all levels through adopting programs, policies and legislation that recognizes the health and well being of our earth’s ecosystem as an integrated whole and that respects it as a global commons;
2. Internationally and worldwide through an international agreement among all Governments via the UN; and
3. By involving all people through their engagement in the stewardship of those aspects of nature that are relevant to each one individually.
Over the past few decades humanity has understood that the Earth, climate, water, plants, animals and human kind are interdependent parts of one single self-regulating system. This Earth system must then remain within certain planetary boundaries in order to support life in an abundant and stable manner; and that it must therefore be stewarded by all human beings working cooperatively together. At the same time, the scientific community has recognized that humanity has already exceeded several planetary boundaries. It also believes that the boundaries adhered to in the Holocene Era seem to be a safe area for humanity to operate in and that we must thus return to and live within these boundaries.
This rapidly growing understanding of the Earth System is based on the knowledge of complex systems, whose behavior is a result of the system as a whole and which cannot be understood by dissection into its different components, analyzing them separately, and then somehow aggregating them again.
We must thus develop and respect such an understanding of the Earth as a living, interdependent system and create a legal basis upon which such a safe operating zone can be nurtured, protected and sustained.
International law has until now identified five “Global Commons” being: the high seas, the seabed, outer space, Antarctica and the celestial bodies. The juridical regime of the Common Heritage of Mankind has already been attributed to three of these: Antarctica, the seabed and the celestial bodies. Given the global interdependence resulting from the natural earth system as a unique self-regulating “system”, it becomes unavoidable to turn to the common natural heritage regime to designate the entire Earth System as well.
While international treaties and conventions relative to global common goods do exist, the United Nations recognizes that “the frameworks are fractured, and not comprehensive enough to include modern conservation principles or assessments”.
The UN Task Team for the Post-2015 Development Agenda drafted a paper on the Governance of the Global Commons, based upon the contributions from 5 UN agencies, which recommends that the UN establish a global governance regime to ensure the preservation of the global commons for future generations.
The report states that “humanity is facing increased demand for resources coupled with critical environmental challenges, most importantly climate change and global warming, the depletion of the Ozone layer, and rapid environmental degradation in the Antarctica. If business as usual prevails, these trends will likely worsen and will negatively impact the global commons’ capacity to provide ecosystem services for human well-being.”
The UN Task Team thus suggests that “establishing a target for the attainment of an inclusive and equitable system of global governance and governance of the global commons could be a way to develop and establish a global partnership in the post-2015 development agenda. Such a partnership could enhance the participation of developing countries in multilateral institutions, increase their representativeness and accountability, and lead to the establishment of a UN-led monitoring and accountability mechanism with a focus on equitable growth, environmental sustainability and peace and security.”
Adopting a goal that recognizes the Earth’s System as the Common Heritage of humanity and a global commons that is to be protected and equitably shared by all people could then provide the means to actually accomplish these very things.
Indeed such an overarching goal ought to provide the fundamental basis upon which all of the SDGs as a whole must be based, particularly so as to be able to live up to and carry out the Precautionary Principle along with all of the other principles contained in the Rio Declaration.
Since all people contribute positively or negatively to the quality of the Earth’s Systems, all people must be included in the stewardship of those aspects of nature that are relevant to their lives as well if their actions are to improve the quality and sustainability of Earth’s Systems.
Targets with corresponding indicators
All states and jurisdictions recognize and manage the Earth System as a common or natural heritage that must be respected, protected and sustained in a state of balance and health for all perpetuity.
Target 1. To determine an adequate biogeochemical structure for human life conditions, which must then be provided while living within our Planetary Boundaries. To use the SDG indicators as a means by which to determine the health of the Earth’s System state. And to use such means to settle accounts and provide compensations between States. Sufficient resources will need to be provided to be able to do this at the local, national, regional and global levels.
In order to achieve this target we would need to:
Indicator 1.1: Create a metric and a global accounting system and Ithen use this to determine and integrate all of the costs and benefits realized by and impacting the newly recognized common heritage by each State and other political jurisdiction.
Indicator 1.2: Determine the extent to which the SDGs, Targets, and Indicators and the metric and global accounting system are used to settle accounts and provide compensations between the outstanding balance of each State in order to maintain the health of the Earth system; achieve all of the international goals and commitments made to date; and to achieve an equitable sharing of the earth’s resources.
(Alternative Language for the above: By GA 2017 each country uses global metrics to determine the difference between the benefits and damages that each country does to the common global earth system or the jurisdiction’s contributions both good and bad to the state of the earth system from the local to global levels. This new metric should be connected with the indicators selected to evaluate the state of Earth’s System.)
Target 2.The Global Community understands and is beginning to manage the Earth’s System in a holistic systemic manner as a fundamental principle of governance; and all schools are engaged in educating about Planetary Boundaries, indicators, and carrying capacity, etc.
This could be achieved through developing a global conversation, based on Planetary Boundaries indicators, on how to manage the Earth’s System in a way that transcends all borders, cannot be physically appropriated or geographically delimited, and constitutes the support needed for life on Earth.
An “Earth System” adequate for human life conditions requires a specific biogeochemical structure, which humanity needs to respect in order to avoid the risk of a catastrophic environmental global change. This system, which we all use and depend upon, should be recognized as our primary Global Commons.
Indicator 2.1: Creation of a national conversation on how each country should manage it’s own contribution for the state of Earth’s System, influencing internal strategies on public governance.
Indicator 2.2: Percentage of citizens of school-going age and older participating in consultations at local, national and global levels.
Indicator 2.3: Percentage of citizens of school age who participate actively in discussions at the local, national and international levels.
Target 3. By GA 2017 a system has been set up that enables all nations and people to share best practices towards respecting and caring for our Common Heritage and protecting and restoring Mother Earth. Each country has implemented a way for all citizens to be involved in caring for all aspects of nature from local to global levels (how to achieve this.)
Indicator 3.1: Implementation into school curriculum of the recognition that we all are an integral part of nature and hands-on programs that allow students to act on this.
Indicator 3.2: Percentage of all schools within a nation where this target is included in the curriculum.
Means by which to Achieve the Targets and Indicators mentioned above:
A High Level Commission is established to study and given input into the development of the metrics, accounting system, and means of settling accounts and providing compensation. The Commission could be tasked with reporting back to the GA in 2016 after which the first steps could then be implemented.
An International Summit is held to develop details on the common heritage management and to find a criteria that allow us to distinguish the normal use of Earth’s System from behaviors that might be considered a crime against humanity such as those leading toward Ecocide.
Citizens participate locally, regionally and nationally via schools, town house meetings and other means to provide input into the issues mentioned above at the local, national and international levels.
Giving input into the concept of Ecocide as a serious damage to the Earth System, that should become a Crime Against Humanity, prosecutable under International Jurisdiction. That would mean that no matter where the transgression occurred it can be prosecuted in a court that deals with such matters.
Alternative Language for Means of Achievement: Reflections on complexities and implementation.
1. This SDG must contain local, regional, national and international components. The international component should contain setting up of a Panel of Experts by the UN General Assembly to gather data in interaction with stakeholders worldwide on:
How the Earth’s Systems should be managed as a global commons and how people’s input can be measured. For instance, there are precedents (Outer Space, Antarctica, the Sea-bed). Metrics should be used to capture the negative and positive externalities, and an accountancy system can also be initiated in order to make a permanent management of global commons.
How national parts of nature, on which the well-being of all people rely such as forests and water, might be managed sustainable at the national level. For instance there might be parallels between how this could be done and the World Heritage Sites and also Endangered Species.
This panel should operate with input of stakeholders worldwide including via global consultations.
UN SYSTEM TASK TEAM ON THE POST-2015 UN DEVELOPMENT AGENDA – Global governance and governance of the global commons in the global partnership for development beyond 2015. Thematic Think Piece OHCHR, OHRLLS, UNDESA, UNEP, UNFPA, January 2013. http://www.un.org/en/
Additional UNTT Finding: In order to enable the the UN to effectively play its role as convener and principal forum for coordination, consideration should also be given to proposals that have been made to enhance coordination, cooperation, coherence and policy-making across the United Nations system.