[Mike Gaworecki, 2016-10-13]
In 2008, Ecuador became the first country to enshrine in its constitution the right of nature to exist and thrive. Then Bolivia passed its Law of the Rights of Mother Earth in 2010, which not only recognizes the natural world’s rights but also grants Earth what’s been called a “legal personality,” thereby allowing legal action to be brought on the planet’s behalf by its representatives — namely, mankind.
At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012, countries adopted a document titled “The future we want” that took a tentative step toward rights for nature by recognizing that it’s necessary to promote harmony with nature in order to achieve a just balance between the needs of current and future generations.
Efforts are now underway in countries around the world to enact laws based on the same principle. Numerous communities and municipalities in the U.S. have already passed laws — often known as a “Community Bill of Rights” — establishing the rights of nature and humans to clean air, pure water, and healthy ecosystems. In fact, in 2014, an ecosystem in Pennsylvania filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit in defense of its own rights, the first action of its kind.
Now the United Nations and the world’s largest conservation organization are both pushing for equal rights for nature, as well.
The more than 1,300 members from over 170 countries of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) signalled their support for nature’s inherent right to exist at the organization’s most recent World Conservation Congress, held in Hawaii last month.
IUCN Members approved two resolutions — Motion 78, which covers “Crimes against the environment,” and Motion 89, on “Humanity’s right to a healthy environment” — both of which explicitly recognize “the rights of nature as a fundamental and absolute key element in all IUCN’s areas of intervention and decision making.”
Additionally, nature’s rights were included in IUCN’s 2017-2020 Programme, which was also approved at the World Conservation Congress to set forth the organization’s global conservation priorities for the next four years. The document states that IUCN “aims to secure the rights of nature and the vulnerable parts of society through strengthening governance and the rights-based approach to conservation.”
These actions on the part of the IUCN will in turn help boost the efforts of wildlife conservation conventions such as CITES, which are especially crucial in the midst of skyrocketing illicit trade in endangered species, according to Linda Sheehan, executive director of the California-based Earth Law Center.
“Governments and conservation groups around the world have signaled that we cannot address species and habitat destruction without incorporating nature’s rights into our laws and practices,” Sheehan said. “The IUCN’s actions illustrate that if humans hold fundamental rights due to their existence on Earth, so too do ecosystems and species.”
In August, just before IUCN members convened in Hawaii, the UN released a report prepared by 120 experts in economics, education, ethics, law, science, and other disciplines that recommended the rights of nature be included in our governance systems, “not by advancing its interests within the capital system as resources to be exploited, but by recognizing the fundamental legal rights of ecosystems and species to exist, thrive and regenerate.”
Nature’s rights “cannot be validly circumscribed or abrogated by human jurisprudence,” the experts write. “These rights are not in opposition to human rights: as part of Nature, our rights are derived from those same rights. The human right to life is meaningless if the ecosystems that sustain us do not have the legal right to exist.”
The UN has just approved the first contributions to a trust fund spearheaded by Bolivia in order to begin implementing activities that advance the paradigm of “Harmony with Nature.”
Earth Law Center’s Sheehan said the UN’s efforts would help catalyze the establishment of legal and economic systems that “hold us to respecting [nature’s inherent rights] rather than treat nature as a mere commodity to feed the myth of infinite economic growth.”