Rights of Nature
Ongoing research into the working conditions of those developing and enforcing the legislation
The National Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, Christopher Stone, Alberto Acosta, Rafael Correa, Mari Margil, Thomas Linzey, Fundación Pachamama, and Ecuadorian politicians in 2008
Used for legal approaches to protecting the human ecosystem
17 nations and more than 200 smaller municipalities have implemented some form of environmental protection referred to as Rights of Nature
Intended to bring humans into equal standing with other species and the natural environment
Ongoing research into the effectiveness of the legislation and the energy used in its preparation and enforcement.
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Equating Species to Garner Legal Protections
What if laws protected all species the way they protect some people? What kind of legal theory enables nature in all its forms to thrive? The Rights of Nature is a category of legislation intended to acknowledge and defend the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish by giving people the authority to petition on the behalf of nature, and requiring the government to provide mechanisms of prevention and remedy when violations of these rights occur.
The first legislation specifically designed to protect non-human entities on a vast scale became law in Ecuador in 2008. The Rights of Nature comprise chapter seven of the Ecuadorian constitution. This file focuses on the design of this first iteration of the RIghts of Nature, its impact on the environment, and some of the significant questions about humans and human legal systems that it raises. The rights were developed by groups of indigenous peoples, environmental activists, and politicians holding round tables and long conversations. 65% of the voting population in Ecuador voted in favor of amending the constitution to include the rights.
17 nations and hundreds of smaller municipalities have enacted their own versions of the Rights of Nature since.
Dependent or Sovereign? Nature and Humans and their Conflicts
According to the Rights of Nature, the state conceptualizes nature as an entity with the same legal protections as a human entity and places the state itself as the sole arbiter of nature and its rights. Article 408 of the constitution confirms that all natural resources belong to the state. The state can decide to protect the nature within its borders, but it can also decide to exploit any natural resources that it recognizes to be of national importance, as long as it consults the affected communities. During drafting, indigenous groups argued that they should have the right to give or deny consent, but this was not granted and Ecuador continues to produce around 482,000 barrels a day of crude oil.
Further problems arise from the way the Rights of Nature defines (or fails to define) nature. Its language prefers spiritual concepts of nature as pachamama (Mother Earth to many indigenous Ecuadorians), applying subjectivity to nature, rather than any clear outlines. This definition is simply too broad. The expansive idea of mother nature means that virtually any infringement on nature is illegal conduct. Repercussions cannot follow if every branch broken becomes a law suit.
Impact of the Rights of Nature in Ecuador
The effectiveness of the Rights of Nature depends on the position of the state executing them. In Ecuador, no evidence exists that the Rights of Nature have made a positive impact; rather, it has become a tool of inconsistent control for the state. With nature’s rights being so expansive, judges selectively enforced ecosystems, and politics plays a role in determining when this happens.
M21D and The Rights of Nature
Although Ecuador’s Rights of Nature has not had an observable impact in protecting nature, it does demonstrate a radical new approach to human legal systems. M21D will continue to research the topic and other legal attempts to protect the natural world.
Ecuador’s Constitutional Rights of Nature: Implementation, Impacts, and Lessons Learned, Willamette Law Review