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Habitat II Online: Invitation to a Journey

Earth Day Statement at the United Nations Peace Bell

United Nations, New York - 20 March, 1996


It is a privilege to be here at this special day and time - Earth Day, the Spring Equinox - at this very special place, the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York, next to the Peace Bell - a poignant reminder of the opening phrase of the U.N. Charter: "We the Peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war ..." and of the fact that we are still so far from achieving the peace promised by the Charter when it was signed just over fifty years ago.

There is a poignancy too about Earth Day - a day which serves both as celebration of our commitment to and appreciation of the beauty of the Earth and the natural world, and as a reminder of the magnitude of the challenges we face and of the fact that we are still so far from surmounting those challenges.

I bring you an invitation to participate in a journey - from here to Istanbul and beyond; a journey of recommitment to the principles and values of Earth Day; a journey of discovery and exploration of new ways and tools with which we can work together in fulfilling the vision of Earth Day.

In June, Habitat II - the Second U.N. Conference on Human Settlements - will be held in Istanbul. It will be the last major conference in a remarkable series of conferences, beginning with the Earth Summit in Rio. As in Rio, the links between environment and development are clear; Habitat's twin themes are "Adequate shelter for all" and "Sustainable human settlements in an urbanizing world".

In focussing on cities and communities, Habitat II - along with the Habitat II NGO Forum, and an array of dialogues and partnership activities - is bringing home - back to the communities where we live - the issues of the conferences that have preceded it. Habitat II raises again the theme of "think globally, act locally", but in a way that goes beyond its original meaning. In the context of the "Rio cluster" of international conferences, we have learned that we also need to be involved in acting globally too.

If we are to rise to the challenge posed by Habitat we need to go beyond - far beyond - what we have accomplished in the twenty-six years since the first Earth Day. For despite all the successes in that time, the challenges we face on this "small green planet" are as immense as ever. We have learned much more about the challenges, but the challenges have kept growing; we have discovered processes that work, but the scale of awareness and of implementation of these processes is still dwarfed by the scale of the challenges.

If we are serious about bringing into reality a vision of a "sustainable common future" - a vision of a world that works for everyone and for the earth, we need to pause for a moment and catch our breath. We need to acknowledge that if we are to succeed, we will have to move to a level beyond where we are now, to a level and a space where we can integrate the knowledge that each of us has gained and the activities that each of us have undertaken. We need to begin - or to continue with renewed vigor and energy - a journey to restore a balance - a true balance, a just balance - between nature, humanity and technology.

We need to use everything we know; we need to use all the tools at our disposal. We need design and action processes that incorporate ecological principles; we need to learn - in ways that go beyond how and what we have learned before - how to translate our ideas and visions into action, how to work in partnership with others, how to connect our work and creative energy with the work and creative energy of others who share our concerns and our commitments.

We need to discover and create new forms of partnership between all those who have a stake in our survival on Earth - including new forms of partnership between nature, humanity, and technology. We need to come to terms with and resolve the conflicts between the natural habitat, our human habitat, and the habitat where technology lives.

The two most powerful tools we have, and that we need to use, are our minds - our vision, imagination, creativity and commitment - and what is beginning to take on the characteristics of a global mind - the remarkable frontier of the Internet and of the World Wide Web.

The possibility of using this "global mind" didn't exist when Earth Day was started; at the 1992 Earth Summit, it was still a clumsy and primitive tool compared to what we have now. Within the space of a very short time, it is becoming possible to link together - to build partnerships between - information about the nature of the challenges we face, and about projects, initiatives and successes. Through the neural pathways of this global mind it is becoming easier with each passing day to exchange our ideas, visions, projects and activities with others around the world.

From a vision of how this "global mind" - this online world - can enhance Habitat II, we have created "Habitat II Online" - H2O - as a framework for participation in the Istanbul conference, a framework in which we can test and explore the ways that we can develop and put into practice partnerships through and with the emerging technologies of information and communication.

This "global mind" offers a framework within which H2O is building and launching a "Partnership Plan of Action" for Habitat II. This is a process that lets us go beyond - far beyond - the Habitat Agenda that is being negotiated by governments; it is a process that will allow all the partners with a stake in the success of the Habitat II vision - the local governments, the community-based organizations, the national and international non-governmental organizations, the private sector, the sources of finance - banks and charitable foundations - the universities - to build on the Habitat Agenda with our own commitments.

The Partnership Plan of Action will allow us discover, define and create links and partnerships based on our vision and our commitments. It will also provide a space for us to learn about making partnerships work; to learn about processes of dialogue and facilitation that can help us get beyond obstacles that can arise from differences in perspective and assumptions.

The Partnership Plan of Action doesn't just offer its partners the opportunity to focus on issues of human settlements; it provides a new and broader framework through which people in their local communities can touch - and be touched by - the United Nations and can come to understand and appreciate more deeply and directly the vital and indispensable role the United Nations plays in the world.

As we hold the vision of Earth Day in our hearts and minds today, I invite you participate in a journey to Istanbul and beyond - a journey of commitment and creativity, of exploration and discovery, of reflection, vision and action.

For additional information about Habitat II Online, the Habitat II Conference, and the Habitat II NGO Forum please contact:

Information Habitat: Where Information Lives

understanding and practice of information ecology

copyright 1996.03.20, 1998.12.28, Information Habitat: Where Information Lives, All rights reserved. Permission is granted to not-for-profit organizations to reproduce and disseminate this document in its entirety including the terms of the copyright.

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