Rights and duties, whether we’re adults or children, we all have them. Animals also have rights! But nature? Nature, plundered and unable to defend itself, is at the heart of ecologists’ fight to secure rights and regulations to protect it. Read on to learn more about nature’s rights!
The Rights of Nature: what are they?
This concept involves recognising the rights of natural entities, giving them a status and offering them the possibility of seeing their interests defended in court. These rights can protect living organisms, ecosystems, and even individual rivers or glaciers. Natural resources will then be recognised and granted specific rights. In the past, there was an environmental law stating that nature was the possession of humankind. Today, the idea is to consider the various systems necessary for life (biodiversity, climate, fresh water) in relation to their link with human society. A new legal field is emerging in which nature and its components will be able to claim the right to exist, develop and evolve, making “ecocide” a crime and, if necessary, one that is subject to legal recourse.
What is the principle behind these rights?
The Rights of Nature, or the Rights of Mother Earth, are inspired by Earth Jurisprudence, as envisioned by Thomas Berry. This philosophy is opposed to the biocentric vision that considers nature the property of humankind. The Rights of Nature consider the world just like many indigenous peoples do: a living whole in which each component is interdependent on the others. This is an obvious fact that modern societies have erased, considering nature as a tool as they see fit, and ignoring the fact that without nature, there would be no humankind.
Biocentric thinking and nature’s rights
These rights are based on a specific notion: each natural entity has a role in the general functioning of the Earth. Each one has an intrinsic value equal to that of all other natural entities, since each one is necessary. This is the idea behind the “Great Whole”: a community in which each member is an essential component, since they all participate in the proper functioning of the system. This biocentric vision is the cornerstone of these rights, as opposed to anthropocentrism, which considers humankind as sovereign. With the Rights of Nature, the integrity of natural entities is preserved and defended: nature is no longer protected only for the purpose of exploitation by humankind, according to the value it represents, but simply for what it is, in a new egalitarian vision where man is no longer at the centre.
How does it work?
Each country can choose to recognise rights of Nature through legal entities, provided that the living entity can be represented by an organisation, such as an association, or a person recognised as a guardian or custodian of this entity. This could be a lawyer, a political personality, an association, etc. In fact, the Ganges in India had been recognised as a legal entity and assigned representatives, but this decision has since been suspended. Granting a legal personality to a living entity is the first condition for the recognition of its rights. It is then necessary to define these rights and assign them, so that the entity can fully play its role. Over the last 20 years, more and more countries have started to recognise the rights of ecosystems, at a local or national level, through legislative or judicial actions.
Which texts define the rights of nature?
In the past, several texts have paved the way for the Rights of Nature as they are currently understood.Adopted in 2010 at the World Conference on Climate Change, the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth enshrined the definition of Mother Earth as an “indivisible community of interrelated beings” on an international level. This declaration assigns people and institutions a series of rights and duties toward ecosystems. Since 2009, the United Nations has set up several think tanks in order to create resolutions aligned with Earth Jurisprudence and develop a global vision of the rights of nature. Then, the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Declaration paved the way for the European shift in environmental law. More recently, the Belgian House of Representatives passed a resolution recognising the crime of ecocide, i.e., the irreparable damage of an ecosystem by destruction or exploitation. Most countries share this vision, but as of yet, no one has gone all the way. However, it was one of the strongest proposals of the Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat [French Citizens’ Convention on Climate], which eventually resulted in a simple pollution offence. Many activists are still striving to have ecocide included in the Environmental Crime Directive at the European level.
All of these developments and battles that have been undertaken to secure concrete protection for nature are a source of great hope. But the urgency is there. Far from being a new fad, the rights of nature, inspired by ancient philosophies, humbly recognise our dependence on ecosystems and, indeed, the imperative need to preserve them, in order to preserve ourselves. The well-being of humankind on earth is inextricably linked to the proper functioning of ecosystems and the living entities within them.