CELDF has been involved in establishing legal Rights for Nature in Western law for over two decades, from the beginning of this movement’s contemporary phase. We recognize that institutionalizing the Rights of Nature requires a cultural paradigm shift that challenges and changes our legal, social, and moral behavior. For life on Earth to survive, and for humanity to persist as one of the millions of living species, we must make a profound commitment, and that means acting earnestly, honestly and with integrity, not merely agreeing in principle with the need for transformation.
New laws must represent the values, morals, and needs that will shape our culture, one that supports and sustain a thriving and diverse Earth community. Giving preference to human convenience and luxury over the survival of non-human species has never been a viable strategy for a healthy future. The economic system that has been built on that value system now threatens to eradicate a significant part of the planet’s biosphere, while further enslaving the greater part of humanity in service to the privileges of the merest minority.
The necessary paradigm shift is attainable. By following the lead of Indigenous culture and knowledge, we must re-establish humans as a part of Nature and not apart from it. This will automatically yield positive results for the majority of people and all of the living planet.
We have already seen cases of opportunistic co-optation of the term “Rights of Nature” that, if allowed to stand unchallenged, will work to dilute, neutralize and defeat this movement. Therefore we offer this statement of the indispensable principles of the Rights of Nature, without which, we believe its tenets will remain aspirational at best.
Rights of Nature recognizes and honors that Nature has inalienable rights and is not property to be owned and exploited. Nature includes all ecosystems and living beings including trees, rivers, mountains, forests, animals, oceans, and humans, and all inorganic habitats in which organic beings dwell. These rights are a recognition that humans are only one species on Earth and respecting the Rights of Nature is necessary for Earth’s balance and interconnected health.
A new system of law based on respect for Nature and the obligations we share as stewards of life-supporting ecosystems must be institutionalized, recognizing Nature as a legal entity and rights holder. We call upon communities, peoples, organizations, and governments to enact, implement, and enforce Rights of Nature policies and laws that meet these minimum criteria:
- Recognize inherent rights of Nature and its constituent ecosystems, habitats, and natural communities to exist, flourish, evolve, and regenerate, and to restoration, recovery, and preservation;
- Ensure that these rights are independent of and never subordinate to, supplemental to, or regulated by, other laws, including administrative regulations and legal concepts, such as “personhood,” which could monetize Nature by making it subject to litigation;
- Provide that the protection of the Rights of Nature places immutable obligations and responsibilities on human society;
- Guarantee the Right of Nature to appear as the real party of interest in administrative proceedings and legal actions affecting these rights;
- Provide that residents of communities who are committed to protecting these rights for the ecosystem in which they live and participate, not defined by political boundaries, be authorized to represent those ecosystems, in the name of those ecosystems, and as members with legal standing, in any and all legal proceedings;
- Require that damages derived from these proceedings be used solely to protect, repair, and restore Nature in the affected ecosystem to its prior natural state.