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by Edith Sizoo, Pierre Calame

Making Responsibility the Ethical Core of the Twenty-first Century and the Foundation of a Third Pillar for the International Community: What Strategy Should We Implement after the Failure of Rio+20? The following lines will take you back for some history on the need of a Charter of Universal Responsibilities, how this was taken to Brazil and Rio+20 and now, how to shape the After Rio+20 and promote the ethics of responsibility. Please note that this is only an extract, the Synthesis and the Full Version are available as downloadable documents below.

By Pierre Calame
With the participation of Edith Sizoo

New ethics and new international law to assume our interdependences: putting the issue in perspective

Between the first international Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 and the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, awareness had been slowly growing about the fact that societies are all interdependent, and that humankind and the biosphere are interdependent too. Each society’s impact on the others was to be taken into account, and the overall impact of societies on the planet assumed. This implied that every actor, every society, every nation was accountable for its impact on others and on the biosphere. What was at stake was the very survival of humankind. This was the idea underlying the “Earth Charter.” When the 1992 Earth Summit was in preparation, many different Earth Charter projects were developed, both by states and by civil society. They were to lead to a new international convention, a third pillar for the international community alongside the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because neither of the two founding texts adopted in the aftermath of World War II addressed the interdependences among societies and between humanity and the biosphere. The states attending the Rio Summit were not, however, able to agree on a common commitment to a text that could serve as the basis for future international law. All they did was adopt Agenda 21, which, while opening new avenues, did not make them binding avenues.

Reference to the peoples’ common responsibility toward their “common future” was limited in the Agenda to adopting the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” The principle recognizes that the impact of societies on their environment varies depending on their level of material development, past and present. […]

In the twenty years following the Earth Summit, while interdependences among societies grew deeper and the cumulative impact of human activities on the biosphere continued to rise, the world’s states, instead of partnering more closely to work toward common survival, continued to reaffirm their sovereignty. In practice, this was tantamount to refusing to take into account their impact on others and on the biosphere. […]

Against this background, the so-called Rio+20 International Conference, organized for the twentieth anniversary of the Earth Summit, was left to the game of diplomacy, a survival of the times when the state of the world could justify that international relations remain limited to negotiations among sovereign states. The failure of Rio+20, where the states adopted a 50-page text droning on about commitments already made a long time ago and not kept, is a sign of the bankruptcy of diplomacy and of the inability of this form of relations among societies to safeguard the future. […]

Since the Rio+20 failure, the gap has never been so deep and wide between global governance and what is needed to save humankind. Our global governance and our international law have become for humankind the most serious of all risks because of their inability to grasp the issue of interdependences. […]

Facing the admission of powerlessness of the states and of the law, civil society, the expression of a slowly emerging global community, must take the initiative. It needs to concentrate on making efforts converge, including by inviting some of the more lucid states and governments to take the initiative back in the direction of the United Nations, because despite its weaknesses, the UN is still the only forum where conventions, standards, and international law can be developed. This is the task to which the Forum of Ethics & Responsibilities intends to dedicate itself. […]

The idea that responsibility has changed in nature with the global proportions of interdependences and that it can serve as the basis for future international law supplementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not a new one. On the contrary, it is expressed far and wide, and this is what underpins the hope that it will succeed someday.

The Forum, far from claiming to do original work, wishes to foster these convergences so that a new ethics of responsibility takes root all over the world, in every sphere, and in every subject, in a movement powerful enough to impose itself gradually on every conscience, to become an incontrovertible reference, and to make it possible to establish an international law that is complementary to human rights.

The idea of responsibility is found, with variations, in every society. Accountability for the impact of one’s actions on others and recognition of the symmetry of obligations among its members are the foundation of any community. Rights and responsibilities are the two inseparable faces of citizenship. Consciousness of responsibility applies at different scales, from the local to the global. It is expressed at three levels: 1. that of individual consciousness; 2. that of collective civil references (professional, social groups) 3. and that of governmental references (juridical systems).

International law of responsibility would have no impact if consciousness of responsibility were not embodied at other levels but is nevertheless indispensable, as is the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of a declaration that would establish such a law. The efforts of civil society must therefore be deployed at the three levels—individual consciousness, collective references, and the law—at every level, in every sphere. […]

A first version of what has been tentatively called the Charter of Universal Responsibilities was developed with jurists in October 2010. We then sought a state that, in the framework of the preparatory work for the Conference, could champion the Charter.

This was all the more arduous that the question of responsibility was not on the official negotiations agenda. We reached the conclusion that only Brazil could play this role, for it was less likely than Europe or the United States to be suspected of wanting to impose Western values on the rest of the world, it was a great emerging country, and to top it off, it was hosting the conference. It was virtually the only country in a position to propose that the initial agenda be widened. Meetings with various members of the Brazilian Government in September 2011 showed us that they shared our analysis regarding the risk of failure of the Rio+20 Conference, and a few expressed great interest in the initiative we were submitting.[…]

Although this battle is far from being won, we can observe real progress thanks to the stubborn work of the Forum. This progress also gives us confidence in the future.

Promoting the ethics of responsibility at every level after Rio+20

Time is not linear in collective adventures. Preparations for the Rio+20 Conference were an accelerator for the Ethics & Responsibilities movement. The conference schedule imposed its timing on us; we were forced to join our own efforts to develop communication tools, write new texts, and make contacts at the highest level. This also involved the ever present risk of racing through the stages and losing in terms of force what we might have won in terms of velocity. Post-Rio requires that we consolidate our foundations and prepare again for a long march, but also to continue to seize every new opportunity. Consolidating our foundations for a long march requires a comprehensive strategy, the main features of which are:
- The movement must involve the four categories of actors of change: innovators, theoreticians, generalizers, regulators,
- The ethics of responsibility must be promoted at three levels: that of individual consciousness; that of civil collective references; and that of standards and the law.
- The ethics of responsibility must progress in terms of three dimensions: geographical area, socioprofessional spheres, fields of life in society
- Co-responsibility among the different actors must be deployed at four scales: local, national, regional, and global. […] These four fields of efforts are objectives in themselves as well as an integral part of the overall strategy to make responsibility the ethical ore of the Twenty-first Century and the Foundation of a Third Pillar for the International Community.

The full version of the text further develops on the following themes:

1. Structuring the governance of the Forum of Ethics & Responsibilities

2. Enlarging the base of the movement

2.1 Socioprofessional enlargement
2.2 Enlargement to other regions of the world

3. Strengthening the credibility and visibility of the Forum proposals

3.1 Reinforcing legal credibility
3.2 Reinforcing institutional credibility

4. Building and consolidating the documentary base to support our strategy

Word - 90 kb
AFTER RIO + 20 full version
Word - 54.5 kb
AFTER RIO + 20 short version
Published on: 7 December 2012
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