United Nations Debates Whether Nature Has Rights

Today the UN General Assembly will discuss implementing new international standards that afford rights and legal standing not just to individuals and businesses adversely affected by exploitation and damage to natural resources, but to nature and ecosystems themselves.

Such standards have already been adopted as federal laws in Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as two dozen American municipalities.

In 2008, Ecuador became the first nation in the world to rewrite their Constitution to include rights for nature to exist, flourish and evolve.

In 2010, the city of Pittsburgh, PA asserted the rights of communities and nature over those of corporations when it passed a city ordinance banning the practice of "shale fracking" within city limits. 

Nearly two dozen US municipalities have passed similar ordinances, finding that existing laws are unable to protect their local ecosystems.

Canadian communities are thinking about doing the same – legal rights for nature could stop privatization of public water systems and halt dangerous tar sands extraction in the fragile Alberta region.

"Today’s environmental laws place commerce above nature, and in so doing they legalize harm to ecosystems," says Shannon Biggs, Director of the Community Rights Program for Global Exchange. 

When the world’s Climate Change Summits failed to generate government led solutions to reverse human-induced climate change, Bolivian President Evo Morales hosted the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2010. The Conference was attended by over 35,000 people and produced a "People’s Accord" and launched the global movement for the "Rights of Mother Earth."

Today’s UN dialogue consists of two panels. The UN General Assembly President, Bolivian ambassador Pablo Solon and the Deputy Secretary General will discuss how the UN can promote a holistic approach to sustainable development that works with nature. A second panel will highlight national experiences with the measurement of sustainable development in harmony with nature.

"The case for acknowledging the Rights of Nature cannot be understated", says Maude Barlow, former Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the UN General Assembly and chairperson of the Council of Canadians. "Every now and then in history, the human race takes a collective step forward in its evolution. Such a time is upon us now as we begin to understand the urgent need to protect the Earth and its ecosystems from which all life comes. The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth is a crucial link in this process and will one day stand as the companion to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one of the guiding covenants of our time."

The Council of Canadians, Global Exchange, and the Fundacion Pachamama will also release a book this week called The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Copies will be made available to all UN missions.

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Comments on “United Nations Debates Whether Nature Has Rights”

  1. Brian Cummins

    The idea of rights for nature was posited back in 1974 by Chris Stone, who is now teaching at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, Los Angeles, CA USA.

    — Should Trees Have Standing?–Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, William Kaufmann, San Francisco (1974); Should Trees have Standing? And Other Essays on Law, Morals and the Environment
    (Oceana Publications, 1996)

  2. Loretta

    I hope this truly happens. There are some big beautiful oak trees marked for cutting down in my area. I am not sure why. They are near a drainage ditch but not in it and have been there for a long time. Why now? I don’t know. I wish there was something I could do to prevent it. I’m too old to sit in the tree.


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