UNCED International [1992 Rio Earth Summit] NGO Forum

We, the participants in the International NGO Forum of Global Forum ’92, have met in Rio de Janeiro as citizens of planet earth to share our concerns, our dreams, and our plans for creating a new future for our world. We emerge from these deliberations with a profound sense that in the richness of our diversity we share a common vision of a human society grounded in the values of simplicity, love, peace, and reverence for life. We now go forth in solidarity to mobilize the moral and human resources of the civil societies of all nations in a unified social movement committed to the realization of this vision.

The urgency of our commitment is heightened by the choice of the world’s political leaders in the official deliberations of the Earth Summit to neglect many of the most fundamental causes of the accelerating ecological and social devastation of our planet. While they engage in the fine tuning of an economic system that serves the short-term interests of the few at the  expense of the many, the leadership for more fundamental change has fallen by default to the organizations and movements of civil society. We accept this challenge.

In so doing we wish to remind the world’s political and corporate leaders that the authority of the state and the powers of the private corporation are grants extended to these institutions by the sovereign people, by civil society, to serve the collective human interest. It is the people’s right to demand that governments and  corporations remain accountable to the public will and interest. Yet through a process of global economic integration pressed on the world’s people by the G7  governments, the Bretton Woods institutions–the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT)–and transnational corporations, the sovereign right and ability of the world’s people to protect their economic, social, cultural, and environmental interests against the growing power of transnational capital is being seriously and rapidly eroded.

This erosion has been only one of the many damaging consequences of a development model grounded in the pursuit of economic growth and consumption to the exclusion of the human and natural interest. Others include the increasing spiritual impoverishment of human society, the economic impoverishment of some 1.2 billion people, the rapidly widening gap between rich and poor, economic racism, institutionalized exploitation of women, the displacement of millions of peoples from their lands and communities, marginalization of the handicapped, and the progressive destruction of the ecological systems that sustain us all.

The path of deepening international debt, structural adjustment, market deregulation, free trade, and the monopolization of intellectual property rights that currently dominates policy thought and action is a path to collective self-destruction, not to sustainable development. We will use our votes, our moral authority, and our purchasing power to remove from positions of authority those who insist on advancing these socially and ecologically destructive policies to serve short-term elite

The Bretton Woods institutions have served as the major instruments by which these destructive policies have been imposed on the world. They constitute a formidable barrier to just and sustainable development. We will work for their transformation or replacement by more suitable institutions. Until they have become fully transparent, publicly accountable, and supportive of the human interest, they must not be allowed to capture control of the sustainability agenda.

The world’s military forces survive primarily as instruments to protect elite interests and suppress the civil unrest that results from economic injustice. They further place an unconscionable burden on earth’s scarce ecological resources. We will work for their elimination and the transfer of their resources to more beneficial purposes. As a first step we will work to end  international arms trade and assistance.

These are realities the official UNCED process has avoided. They have been among our central concerns.

We have not, however, limited our attention to critique. We have also sought to define our vision for an alternative future and our agenda for its accomplishment. We are diverse in our experience and languages. We seek alternatives for which there are no clear models. The existing dominant development model and its supporting institutions emerged over a period of some 500 years. The two weeks we have spent in deliberations in Rio are only a beginning toward crafting an alternative. We have achieved a broadly shared consensus that the following principles will guide our continuing collective effort.

The fundamental purpose of economic organization is to meet the community’s basic needs, such as for food, shelter, clothing, education, health, and the enjoyment of culture. This purpose must take priority over all other forms of consumption, particularly wasteful and destructive forms of consumption such as consumerism and military spending–both of which must be eliminated without further delay. Other immediate priorities include energy conservation, shifting to reliance on solar energy sources, and converting agriculture to sustainable practices that minimize dependence on non-renewable and ecologically harmful inputs.

Beyond meeting basic physical needs, the quality of human life depends more on the development of social relationships, creativity, cultural and artistic expression, spirituality, and opportunity to be a productive member of the community than on the ever increasing consumption of material goods. Everyone, including the handicapped, must have a full opportunity to participate in all these forms of development.

Organizing economic life around decentralized relatively self-reliant local economies that control and manage their own productive resources, provide all people an equitable share in the control and benefits of productive resources, and have the right to safeguard their own environmental and social standards is essential to sustainability. This strengthens attachment to place, encourages environmental stewardship, enhances local food security, and accommodates to distinctive cultural identities. Trade between such local economies, as between nations, should be just and balanced. Where the rights and interests of the corporation conflict with the rights and interests of the community, the latter must prevail.

All elements of society, irrespective of gender, class, or ethnic identity, have a right and obligation to participate fully in the life and decisions of the community. The presently poor and disenfranchised, in particular, must become full participants. Women’s roles, needs, values and wisdom are especially central to decision-making on the fate of the Earth. There is an urgent need to involve women at all levels of policy making, planning and implementation on an equal basis with men. Gender balance is essential to sustainable development. Indigenous people also bring vital leadership to the task of conserving the earth and its creatures and in creating a new life-affirming global reality. Indigenous wisdom constitutes one of human society’s important and irreplaceable resources. The rights and contributions of indigenous people must be recognized.

While overall population growth is a danger to the health of the planet, growth in the numbers of the world’s over consumers is a more immediate threat than population growth among the poor. Assuring all people the means to meet their basic needs is an essential precondition to stabilizing population. Reproductive freedom and access to comprehensive reproductive health care and family planning are basic human rights.

Knowledge is humanity’s one infinitely expandable resource. Beneficial knowledge in whatever form, including technology, is a part of the collective human heritage and should be freely shared with all who might benefit from it.

Debt bondage, whether of an individual or a country, is immoral and should be held unenforceable in international and civil law.

Transparency must be the fundamental premise underlying decision making in all public institutions, including at international levels.

Implementation of these principles toward transformational change will require a massive commitment to education. New understanding, values, and skills are needed at all levels and across all elements of society. We will educate ourselves, our communities, and our nations to this end.

We acknowledge our debt to indigenous wisdom and values. These have greatly enriched our deliberations and will be sources of continuing learning. We will honor this heritage and work to protect the rights of indigenous people.

Our thinking has also been enriched by the teachings of the many religious traditions represented among us. We recognize the central place of spiritual values and spiritual development in the society we seek to create. We commit ourselves to live by the values of simplicity, love, peace, and reverence for life shared by all religious traditions.

Our efforts in Rio have produced a number of people’s treaties to define more specific commitments to one another for action at local, national, and international levels. These treaties are in varying stages of development. All are documents in process. We will further refine them through countless dialogues and negotiations throughout the world as ever larger numbers of people join in our growing movement.

We invite the leaders of business and government to join us in this act of global citizenship. They must, however, know that we no longer wait for them to lead us in dealing with a global reality they have so far chosen to ignore. The time is too short and the stakes too high.

We, the people of the world, will mobilize the forces of transnational civil society behind a widely shared agenda that bonds our many social movements in pursuit of just, sustainable, and participatory human societies. In so doing we are forging our own instruments and processes for redefining the nature and meaning of human progress and for transforming those institutions that no longer respond to our needs. We welcome to our cause all people who share our commitment to peaceful and democratic change in the interest of our living planet and the human societies it sustains.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
June 12, 1992

This declaration was prepared in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992 to document the underlying consensus that emerged from the deliberations of the International NGO Forum during the UNCED Earth Summit. It may be freely reprinted and distributed without prior permission.