By Alistair Jones

A growing movement to give nature rights is sprouting. Battles to secure rights for nature can be long and drawn out, however, some victories are emerging around the globe.

On March 20th, 2017, the New Zealand government passed legislation recognizing the Whanganui River as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. This approach could offer a new path toward sustainable development and cause people to retract from the human centric mindset that nature is here to serve us.

This success in New Zealand did not come easy; it was the culmination of two centuries of physical and legal struggle by the Whanganui people against colonial control of the river and its water, including eight years of intensive negotiation.

Advancements like these in environmental protection could incite change elsewhere in the world. And it has, shortly after the New Zealand ruling the Ganges and Yamuna river system in India was also given the legal status of persons after an ongoing battle to stop it being polluted. (Resilience). Other countries that have made strides in favor of nature rights

Colombia

In 2016 the Colombian Constitutional Court’s 2016 ruling that the Atrato River had legal personhood and the right to be protected, conserved and restored. This triggered the 2018 ruling by the Supreme Court of Colombia to pressure to the government to protect the Colombian Amazon.

Bolivia

The 2010 Law of the Rights of Mother Earth and the 2012 Framework Law of Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well recognize rights of Mother Earth to life, diversity of life, water, clean air, and restoration. In 2010, Bolivia held the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, where a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth was issued. (Cordon)

Ecuador

The 2008 Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador recognizes rights of Pacha Mama, or nature, which include respect for its existence, life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes, as well as restoration. This made Ecuador the first country in the world to include ‘Rights of Nature’ in its Constitution.

U.S.

Voters in Toledo, Ohio, passed the “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” earlier this year. This guarantees the lake and its surrounding watershed rights “exist, flourish and naturally evolve.”

Unfortunately, these efforts to protect nature in Bolivia, Ecuador, and the U.S. have not been able to slow environmental degradation. However, the future may hold more promising results.

These legal rights comprise three components: legal standing, the right to enter and enforce legal contracts, and the right to own property. And we the people have the legal power and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of nature and its myriad of ecosystems.

To accept something that is non-human as a legal entity requires a conceptual shift. This is nothing new as we already grant this to corporations, trusts, charities, and nation states. However, to accept a non-human part of nature as a legal entity is big, it is diverging from the mindset that humans are the main focus when building our future. This enforces the indigenous mindset of living in harmony with nature, moreover, the idea that all life is interconnected.

At Rainforest Partnership, we seek to empower our partner communities and facilitate alternative economic opportunities. These advancements in the legal status of nature are invigorating for us at RP and our partner communities. Especially when considering that Ecuador was the first country in the world to include nature rights in their constitution, as we have partners in Ecuador. Moving forward we hope that nature is no longer overlooked and its true value is appreciated. All efforts to protect nature are worth, no matter how grueling the process may be.

Raising the legal status of nature could allow society to rethink how it relates to the complex ecosystems around us. Not something that is separate or above nature, but as equal.

Help support our efforts to elevate the rights of nature and facilitate sustainable economic development where it counts.

RP team visiting Sani Isla, Ecuador 2009. Building work alliances with Kichwa people

Citations

Cordon, Sandra. “Talking about a Revolution for Nature’s Rights.” Landscape News, 22 Apr. 2019, news.globallandscapesforum.org/34132/talking-about-a-revolution-for-natures-rights/.

Cordon, Sandra. “Who Is Applying Rights-of-Nature Laws?” Landscape News, 22 Apr. 2019, news.globallandscapesforum.org/34164/who-is-applying-rights-of-nature-laws/.

“The Rise of the Rights of Nature.” Resilience, 2 Apr. 2019, www.resilience.org/stories/2019-04-02/the-rise-of-the-rights-of-nature/.

“What Is Rights of Nature?” The Rights of Nature, therightsofnature.org/what-is-rights-of-nature/.