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Last Updated: 01/19/2005
Earth Charter Kickboxing: new moves.
Mohit Mukherjee

Bangkok was the site for the 3rd World Conservation Union Congress – an event that occurs with Olympic frequency, the last one taking place in Jordan in the year 2000. Mohit Mukherjee records a success story.

I cleared immigration at Bangkok airport around 2 a.m. on Monday Nov. 15th morning, but as my taxi drove through the city, I wondered if I had gotten the local time right as the traffic, street food stalls, and people made it feel like mid-evening in San Jose. My taxi driver asked me what brought me to Bankgkok. I 'm here for the IUCN was the best I could manage.


    Bangkok was the site for the 3rd World Conservation Union Congress an event that occurs with Olympic frequency, the last one taking place in Jordan in the year 2000. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) is a unique organization as it brings together both governments and NGOs into one body. Founded in 1948, it now counts over 1,000 member organizations from approximately 140 countries including 77 States and 800-plus NGOs. The Union s mission is to help societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.


    The Congress, a board meeting of sorts for members, makes policy decisions to guide conservation action over the next four years, as well as to launch new conservation initiatives. It was titled People and Nature only one world reflecting the shift in the conservation agenda over the last few decades to now include the human condition as a important concern. 


    So what was I doing in Bangkok? I was part of a team of people who had been working to ensure that a Motion on the Earth Charter would be adopted by the IUCN. Without getting too technical, the Motion, which was to be voted on by members, was broadly seeking an endorsement of the Earth Charter by the IUCN and a commitment to use it as a guide for its policies and programs. Given that the Earth Charter is a declaration of principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century, resulting from a decade long, cross-cultural and participatory consultation process, you might assume that this would be an easy enough Motion to get passed. I cannot, due to limited space, convey what a politically complex process just getting the Motion to be presented had already been. Our preparation had started over a year ago with many roadblocks along the way.


     We were all tense the evening the Earth Charter Motion was to be put up to vote in plenary, November 24th. In the preceeding days, we had agreed to a number of changes in the wording of the Motion in order to put at ease certain governmental concerns. Also, based on our observations on which governments had been vocal in the plenary process (such as Japan, India, Germany, ) we had spoken to the delegation heads and ensured that they would not oppose the Motion. Evidently, a vocal opposition from a Government when the Motion is up for vote can be the kiss of death.


    The time for the Motion finally arrived it was past 9 p.m.  We hoped that the long day, with several other Motions yet to be voted on, would help us get through quickly. Wishful thinking. The delegate of what many consider to be the most powerful country in the world took the floor. She explained that while her country felt that the Earth Charter had many laudable goals, it also had many contentious principles. Not only would they oppose the motion, they recommended other members to do the same. 


     Our team was shell-shocked. In nearly 3 days of voting, that government had been keeping a very low profile. In the seconds that followed, a Dutch NGO representative took the floor and expressed that they support the Motion. However, the words of opposition still lingered in the air. The Chair called for a vote. We held our breaths. On the giant screen in front of the room, a red bar indicated that voting was in progress. It took 30 seconds, but time stood still. And then, sudden applause, hugging, and cheers the Motion passed!


    As my taxi drove to the airport, I could not help having mixed feelings about the week behind me. I was exhausted by all the politics behind getting our Motion passed. I wondered about the actual impact the endorsement would have, given the time and energy that had gone into the lobbying process. I realized that historic conservation policy had been set, but there seemed to be such a disconnect between the actions of the delegates and the policies they were working towards enacting. I had caught a cold from the air conditioning at the Convention Center which chilled the room as if it was a meeting for penguins certainly not an energy efficient policy.


    As my taxi driver waited in the Bangkok traffic, he asked me what had brought me to Bangkok. I was eager to speak to him about the many issues that had been raised, from the role of private sector in conservation to the debate on Genetically Modified Organisms. And I remembered Achim Steiner s (Director General of IUCN) sentiment, that unless the conservation community can communicate their message with the everyday person, it s a losing battle.  Pity I don t speak Thai.

Mohit Mukherjee is Education Programme Manager for the Earth Charter Initiative Int'l Secretariat based Costa Rica. tel: 506-205-9061 fax: 506-249-1929