Rights of Nature: Overview
CELDF’s International Center for the Rights of Nature is spearheading the advancement of the Rights of Nature around the world. The Center is assisting civil society, indigenous peoples, communities, and governments to advance Rights of Nature laws and policies. This includes providing legislative and policy drafting, legal research, public engagement and education, and trainings.
Communities in the United States and the country of Ecuador have worked with CELDF to establish the first Rights of Nature laws in the world. Today, we are working in India, Nepal, Australia, Cameroon, Colombia, the United States, and other countries on the Rights of Nature.
To learn more about the Rights of Nature, please continuing reading below, and check out these helpful Rights of Nature resources.
What is the Rights of Nature?
Environmental degradation is advancing around the world. The United Nations has warned that we are heading toward “major planetary catastrophe.” There is a growing recognition that we must fundamentally change the relationship between humankind and nature.
Making this fundamental shift means recognizing our dependence on nature and respecting our need to live in harmony with the natural world. This means securing the highest legal protection and the highest societal value on nature through the recognition of rights.
The Human Right to a Healthy Environment and the Rights of Nature
Many nations have expanded their body of legal rights to recognize a human right to a healthy environment, including Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, and Finland. However, as global warming accelerates and ecosystems are pushed to collapse, we are finding that the human right to a healthy environment cannot be achieved without securing rights of the environment itself. This means recognizing in law the rights of nature to be healthy and thrive.
A true "right of the environment" does exist.— Pope Francis, September, 2015
Rights of Nature Going Statewide
As the numbers of communities advancing Community Rights – including the Rights of Nature – grow, CELDF is assisting them to join together to form statewide Community Rights Networks. We are partnering with the Networks to draft constitutional amendments to establish Community Rights and the Rights of Nature. Today, Colorado, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Ohio are advancing these constitutional amendments.
Rights of Nature Going Global
Following the first communities in the United States beginning to enact Rights of Nature laws over a decade ago, the Rights of Nature is now a growing global movement.
In 2008, was invited to meet with the Ecuador Constituent Assembly as they drafted a new constitution. CELDF assisted the Assembly to draft Rights of Nature constitutional provisions. Ecuadorians adopted their new constitution by an overwhelming majority, making Ecuador the first country in the world to recognize the Rights of Nature in its constitution.
Ecuador’s Rights of Nature constitutional provisions – found in Chapter 7 – begin, stating: “Nature, or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes. All persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature.
The first cases have now been brought in Ecuador, where the courts upheld and affirmed the constitutional rights of ecosystems. This is the first time such cases have been brought and litigated.
This includes a lawsuit brought by Richard Frederick Wheeler and Eleanor Geer Huddle in the name of the Vilcabamba River. The river was a plaintiff in the case, seeking to enforce its own constitutional rights to exist and thrive. The healthy functioning and flow of the river was being impacted by a government road-widening construction project.
In 2011, the Provincial Justice Court of Loja ruled in favor of the Vilcabamba River. This marked the first time since that a court upheld the constitutional rights of nature.
Following Ecuador’s constitutional process, people and civil society in other countries learned about the Rights of Nature. Today, CELDF’s International Center for the Rights of Nature is working in India, Nepal, Australia, Cameroon, Colombia, the United States, and other countries, assisting people, communities, and groups to advance the Rights of Nature.
In 2010, Bolivia hosted the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, at the conference CELDF assisted in drafting the proposed Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, which was modeled on the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth has been presented to the U.N. General Assembly for its consideration.
Over the past several years, CELDF has traveled to Nepal, India, Colombia, and Australia, to present on the Rights of Nature and help people and civil society launch Rights of Nature campaigns. In Nepal, CELDF has been working with environmental and indigenous groups, and meeting with Parliamentarians, on amending the Nepal Constitution to recognize the Rights of Nature.
In 2014, CELDF traveled to Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, India, where we are partnering with the Global WASH Alliance-India and Ganga Action Parivar. Together we developed the National Ganga River Rights Act, which is being proposed to Prime Minister Modi’s administration. The Act would recognize rights of the Ganga River Basin and the people of India to a healthy river ecosystem.
CELDF also assisted the Green Party of England and Wales to develop a Rights of Nature policy for their national party platform. The policy was adopted in February 2016.
Check out our Rights of Nature Timeline on how this movement has grown.
A healthy environment is “one of the basic human rights.”— Rachel Carson
Enforcing and Defending the Rights of Nature in the U.S.
In 2014, Grant Township, in the State of Pennsylvania, enacted a CELDF-drafted Community Bill of Rights law. The law recognized the Rights of Nature in law. An oil and gas corporation sued the community to overturn the law.
In November 2014, CELDF filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit by an ecosystem. This is the first time an ecosystem in the United States sought to intervene in a suit to defend its rights as recognized in municipal law.
The ecosystem – the Little Mahoning Watershed – sought to defend its own legal rights to exist and flourish. That case is ongoing.
In Highland Township, Pennsylvania, CELDF is also serving as legal counsel for a local watershed to defend its rights not to have frack waste injected in the ecosystem.