Recognising the Rights of Nature

Recognising the Rights of Nature

Does a tree have rights not to be cut down? Does a creek have the right not to be polluted and dammed? During the GEN Europe conference in July, Mumta Ito from Findhorn Ecovillage, spoke about the concept of Wholistic Law and a rights-based approach to environmental protection. She launched a working group to bring a 'European Citizen’s Initiative for Recognising and Respecting the Inherent Rights of Nature' (the “ECI”). Now, GEN has adopted the rights of nature in their policy. Mumta Ito explains the idea.

The working group includes, amongst others, the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, GEN, Wild Law UK, Cormac Cullinan, Paulo Borges, CEDLF and film director Raul Alvarez who has committed to making a film on the rights of nature to coincide with the launching of the ECI. The ECI is a participatory democracy mechanism within the EU since April 2012 that allows citizens to propose a law. Providing that 1 million signatures across 7 member states are obtained, the EU must consider passing that law. The EC wants citizens to play a more active role in European political processes and the ECI is a powerful way of doing this.
Why Rights of Nature?
Despite the proliferation of environmental laws and treaties, destruction of the natural world still continues apace. One of the key reasons that this occurs is because our environmental laws legitimise it.

The highest protection our law gives is in the form of “rights”. Law regulates human behaviour, but only between “rights” holders. It recognises broadly two forms of “rights” holder – human beings and corporations. Everything else is treated as “property”. This means that environmental issues are treated as planning issues and are dealt with exclusively by the planning and administrative courts, ignoring the wide ranging issues that are really at stake when interfering with ecosystems in an inter-existent world. At best, all that can be achieved in court is the reversal of a planning decision – only for a new revised application to be submitted and the development usually going ahead.

Modern environmental law in most countries operates still within the following paradigms:
- mechanistic (ie. viewing the world as linear and made up of separate unconnected objects);
- anthropocentric (ie. viewing the world as existing solely for the use of human beings – this is where ideas about “natural resources” and “natural capital” derive, basing nature’s value on its utility to humanity); and
- adversarial (competitive/retributive model where one party wins at the expense of another).

None of these paradigms reflect the scientific reality of natural systems. This gives rise to the illusion of a “power-over” relationship with nature which has led to our current predicament. As we are a part of nature, composed of the 5 elements, it is impossible for us to overpower nature.
Science has long recognised a fluid and complexly interconnected world (eg. quantum physics and living systems theory that explain the processes of synergy and non-linear cause and effect). However, our laws and general cultural attitudes fail to act on this knowledge, to our detriment. We talk about “sustainability” – yet our legal framework’s fundamental alignment is inconsistent with the very idea. It’s time for a change.
And that change is happening around the world. Ecuador and Bolivia have adopted rights of nature at constitutional/national level. Over 3 dozen municipalities in the USA including New York, Santa Monica and Pittsburgh have adopted rights of nature at a local level (subordinating the rights of corporations to that of ecosystems and people insofar as their actions are against the common good).

Additionally, recent court decisions are following this trend such as the Whanganui River in New Zealand being recognised as a living being with the same rights as a person, and Costa Rican courts ruling that the second largest reef in the world cannot be commercially exploited as it is a living being.
Call for Support
The ECI is a project that will be run across the whole of Europe – as it is a citizen’s initiative we need citizens to actively participate in the process.
If you have skills in the following areas and would like to be part of this exciting history-making initiative, please get in touch with me at [email protected] or[email protected]. The specific areas we need assistance with are:

Fundraising; admin; IT; websites; social media; branding; video production; animation; filming (access to professional equipment to produce a 2 min video for the campaign and to take footage for the film); EU economic policy; EU environmental policy; EU social policy; research; and project management. We are particularly looking for team members to make up the country teams.

Offers of skills support could be in a purely “advisory” capacity or more hands-on – (no offer of assistance is too small). If you would like to know more about the project you can download a copy of the project document here:

Let’s change environmental law and create the legal framework needed for sustainability, together!

With Love and Gratitude, Mumta Ito, International Centre for Wholistic Law (ICWL)


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