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About CELDF’s Center
for the Rights of Nature
CELDF is assisting civil society, indigenous peoples, communities, and governments to advance laws and policies for the protection of nature and the environment. This includes providing legislative and policy drafting, legal research, public engagement and education, ongoing support during global crises, and trainings.
Communities in the United States and the country of Ecuador have also worked with CELDF to establish the first global laws protecting nature. Today, we are working in India, Nepal, Australia, Cameroon, Colombia, the United States, and other countries to establish similar laws.
To learn more, please continuing reading below, and check out these helpful resources.
In spring 2018, CELDF participated in the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change. Learn more and watch the video here:
Oxford Human Rights Hub recently interviewed a CELDF representative. They discussed the limitations of human rights in confronting environmental harms, and how recognition of nature’s rights is growing in the U.S. and globally. Listen to the podcast!
What ARE the Rights of Nature?
Environmental degradation is advancing around the world. The United Nations has warned that we are heading toward “major planetary catastrophe.” For this reason, there is a growing recognition that we must fundamentally change the relationship between humankind and nature.
Making this fundamental shift means acknowledging our dependence on nature and respecting our need to live in harmony with the natural world. It means securing the highest legal protection and the highest societal value for nature through the recognition of nature’s rights.
The Human Right to a Healthy Environment
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, global warming is accelerating and ecosystems are pushed to collapse. In such a world, we are finding that the human right to a healthy environment cannot be achieved without securing the environment’s own rights first. This means recognizing in law the right 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 number of communities advancing Community Rights – including the Rights of Nature – grows, CELDF is assisting them in joining to form statewide Community Rights Networks. We are also partnering with these Networks to draft constitutional amendments to establish provisions for communities and nature. Today, Colorado, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Ohio are advancing such constitutional amendments.
In 2019, Toledo, Ohio adopted the Lake Erie Bill of Rights – the first Rights of Nature law for a specific ecosystem. In March of 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revoked a permit for a frack waste injection well in Grant Township. DEP officials cited Grant Township’s Home Rule Charter banning injection wells as grounds for their reversal.
Rights of Nature Taking first International Steps
Following the first communities in the United States enacting nature rights laws over a decade ago, the initiative became a growing global movement.
In 2008, CELDF was invited to meet with the Ecuador Constituent Assembly as they drafted a new constitution. We assisted the Assembly with constitutional provisions regarding nature’s defense. 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 – state: “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.”
Watershed International Cases
The first cases have now been brought and litigated in Ecuador, where the courts upheld and affirmed the constitutional rights of ecosystems.
They include 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 nature’s constitutional right to protection.
Rights of Nature Expanding Globally
Following Ecuador’s constitutional process, people and civil society in other countries learned about the movement. Today, CELDF’s International Center for the Rights of Nature is working in India, Nepal, Australia, Cameroon, Colombia, the United States, and other countries. We assist people, communities, and groups in advancing the protection of nature’s rights.
In 2010, Bolivia hosted the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. At the conference CELDF assisted in drafting the proposed Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, 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 also traveled to Nepal, India, Colombia, and Australia. We have presented on nature rights initiatives and help people and civil society launch related campaigns.
In Nepal, CELDF has been working with environmental and indigenous groups, and meeting with Parliamentarians. The goal is to amend the Nepal Constitution to recognize the Rights of Nature.
In 2014, CELDF traveled to Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, India, to partner with the Global WASH Alliance-India and Ganga Action Parivar. Together we developed the National Ganga River Rights Act. This is now 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 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 Right, recognizing the Rights of Nature. An oil and gas corporation sued the community to overturn the law.
In November 2014, CELDF filed a motion for the Little Mahoning Watershed to intervene in the lawsuit. This is the first time an ecosystem in the United States sought to defend its rights as recognized in municipal law. Its intervention is meant to defend its own legal right to exist and flourish. That case is ongoing.
In Highland Township, Pennsylvania, CELDF is also serving as legal counsel for a local watershed. The goal is to defend its rights not to have frack waste injected in its ecosystem.
In October 2017, CELDF and our International Center for the Rights of Nature partnered with Tulane University to bring the 1st U.S. Rights of Nature Symposium to New Orleans. Check out the videos and the transcript!
CELDF assisted Ecuador to establish the Rights of Nature in their constitution ten years ago. Re-watch the Livestream from the International Rights of Nature Symposium celebration and gathering in Quito, Ecuador, September 27-28 2018.
A CELDF representative was present, along with many CELDF partners and nature rights champions from around the world.
Fight for the rights of nature, today.
Corporate-claimed “rights” to profits come at the cost of ecosystem rights to flourish. Please give today to help CELDF advance Rights of Nature. CELDF uses every dollar of your donation for this fight.