Ecuador Follows Lead of U.S. Communities:  First Country in the World to Shift to Rights-Based Environmental Protection, Working With Legal Defense Fund


Stacey Schmader
Administrative Director

By an overwhelming margin, the people of Ecuador today voted for a new constitution that is the first in the world to recognize legally enforceable Rights of Nature, or ecosystem rights.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is pioneering this work in the U.S., where it has assisted more than a dozen local municipalities with drafting and adopting local laws recognizing Rights of Nature.

Over the past year, the Legal Defense Fund was invited to assist the Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly to develop and draft provisions for the new constitution to put ecosystem rights directly into the Ecuadorian constitution.  The elected Delegates to the Constituent Assembly requested that the Legal Defense Fund draft language based on ordinances developed and adopted by municipalities in the U.S.

“Ecuador is now the first country in the world to codify a new system of environmental protection based on rights,” stated Thomas Linzey, Executive Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

“With this vote, the people of Ecuador are leading the way for countries around the world to fundamentally change how we protect nature,” added a CELDF representative.

Article 1 of the new “Rights for Nature” chapter of the Ecuador constitution reads:  “Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.  Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public bodies.”

Legally Enforceable Ecosystem Rights: From the U.S. to Ecuador

The Legal Defense Fund has assisted communities in the U.S. – in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Virginia – to draft and adopt first-in-the-nation laws that change the status of ecosystems from being regarded as property under the law to being recognized as rights-bearing entities.

From Tamaqua Borough in Pennsylvania, to the Town of Barnstead in New Hampshire, to Halifax in southern Virginia, the Legal Defense Fund works with communities that recognize that environmental protection cannot be attained under a structure of law that treats natural ecosystems as property.

All of the major environmental laws in the U.S. – including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and similar state laws – treat nature as property under the law.  These laws legalize environmental harms by regulating how much pollution or destruction of nature can occur.  Rather than preventing pollution and environmental destruction, these laws instead codify it.

The Rights of Natures laws developed by the Legal Defense Fund for local municipalities in the U.S. represent changes to the status of property law, eliminating the authority of a property owner to interfere with the functioning of ecosystems that exist and depend upon that property for their existence and flourishing. These local laws allow certain types of development that do not interfere with the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish.

These local laws – and now Ecuador’s constitution – recognize that ecosystems possess the inalienable and fundamental right to exist and flourish, and that people possess the legal authority to enforce those rights on behalf of ecosystems.  In addition, these laws require the governments to remedy violations of those ecosystem rights.  

The Ecuador constitution operates in the same way.


The Legal Defense Fund, founded in 1995, is the only public interest law firm in the U.S. that specializes in building a body of law focused on establishing Rights of Nature.

The Legal Defense Fund has served as special legal counsel to over one hundred municipal governments across the U.S., and serves as a legal advisor to organizations and governments in other countries, including Ecuador, who are focused on driving similar laws into their governing frameworks.

Today’s environmental laws are failing.  By most every measure, the environment today is in worse shape than when the major U.S. environmental laws were adopted over thirty years ago.  Since then, countries around the world have sought to replicate these laws.  Yet, species decline worldwide is increasing exponentially, global warming is far more accelerated than previously believed, deforestation continues unabated around the world, and overfishing in the world’s oceans is pushing many fisheries to collapse.

The people, communities, and governments that the Legal Defense Fund works with recognize that environmental protection cannot be attained under a structure of law that continues to treat natural ecosystems as property.

The Pachamama Alliance, with offices in San Francisco and Quito, played a key role in facilitating the Legal Defense Fund’s involvement in the drafting of Ecuador’s new constitution.

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