In European First, Proposed Constitutional Amendment in Sweden Would Enshrine Rights of Nature

“When we’re in the beginning of an ecological and climate collapse,” said the lawmaker who introduced the measure, “I hope we can re-think our relationship with Nature.

Pine forest in Sweden. The proposed amendment to Sweden’s Instrument of Government would secure the Rights of Nature to “existera, blomstra, regenerera och utvecklas”—which translates as “exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve”—in order to provide the people and government of Sweden the ability to defend and enforce these rights on behalf of Nature. (Photo: Peter Lesseur / EyeEm/ iStock)

Heralded as the first of its kind in Europe, a proposed constitutional amendment in Sweden seeks to enshrine the rights of Nature to ensure that the creatures, fona, and features of the natural world are protected from exploitation and abuse by endowing them with legal status previously reserved only for humans and select animals.

“Economic growth has been the real goal, not a healthy environment. I’m tired of this era, where our arrogant worldview has driven us far beyond the planetary boundaries.”

The proposed amendment to Sweden’s Instrument of Government, the nation’s constitutional document, would secure the Rights of Nature to “existera, blomstra, regenerera och utvecklas“—which translates as “exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve”—in order to provide the people and government of Sweden the ability to defend and enforce these rights on behalf of Nature.

Introduced by Swedish MP Rebecka Le Moine with the backing of a coalition of national and international groups—including Rights of Nature Sweden, Lodyn, and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s International Center for the Rights of Nature—the change to Swedish law mirrors that of others in the world but, if passed, would set a new precedent in Europe.

“For twenty years, we have been working with the national environmental goals in Sweden. After all this time, we are barely reaching two of them,” Le Moine said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The underlying value in our society is that we are the dominators of this world, and Nature is just a resource for us to use,” she continued. “Economic growth has been the real goal, not a healthy environment. I’m tired of this era, where our arrogant worldview has driven us far beyond the planetary boundaries. Now, when we’re in the beginning of an ecological and climate collapse, I hope we can re-think our relationship with Nature. And for me, it starts with admitting that Nature has rights.”

On its website, the group Rights of Nature Sweden explained the process for having the amendment adopted this way:

A proposed rights of nature amendment to the Constitution could be introduced directly into the Riksdag by Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament may introduce private motions for consideration by the Riksdag. This occurs in the autumn, when the Riksdag opens, during which time Members may propose private motions. Each motion is referred to a parliamentary committee for its review and consideration (a rights of nature amendment possibly would be referred to the Committee on the Constitution, or the Committee on the Environment and Agriculture). The committee then examines the motion and presents a proposal for how the Riksdag should decide before it adopts a position in the Chamber.

As the group also noted, this approach to defending the natural world is hardly new, with legal rights of nature having already been “recognized in laws and court decisions in the United States, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, India, New Zealand, and Colombia.”

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Philippine bill seeks to grant nature the same legal rights as humans

Image result for mongabay: Philippine bill seeks to grant nature the same legal rights as humans

  • A coalition in the Philippines is pushing for legislation of a “right of nature” bill, which would confer legal personhood on nature.
  • The bill, should it pass into law, will create a paradigm shift in existing human-centered environmental laws and make individuals, governments and corporations more responsible and accountable when dealing with nature.
  • The bill, currently in the drafting, adequately represents the connectedness between indigenous peoples and their ancestral domains, an indigenous women’s rights activist says.
  • The bill is part of a growing movement around the world to recognize ecosystems and species as legal entities, as a way of boosting their protection amid intensifying threats.

MANILA — Who speaks up in court for a dolphin or a turtle when its habitat gets polluted? Does an animal even have the right to legal redress in such a case?

Those are the questions underlying a push by environmental activists and lawyers in the Philippines to expand legal protection for the environment, strengthen indigenous people’s rights over ancestral domain lands, and hold individuals, government and corporations accountable for environmental abuses and lapses.

Initiated by the Philippine-Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI), the “right of nature” bill is currently in the draft stage. Though it has yet to be filed with either house of Congress, when it does it will be the first bill of its kind to be considered for legislation in the Philippines.

Inspired by similar initiatives in Latin American countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia, the RON bill’s main purpose is to grant nature legal personhood. This would endow it with rights currently associated with humans, including the right to exist and thrive; to habitat and diversity of life; to water and clean air; to equilibrium; to restoration; to be free from chemical trespass; to natural evolution; and to develop sustainably.

“We want to recognize nature as a distinct entity with legal personality,” says Macki Maderazo, the PMPI’s legal counsel. “When you say it has a legal personality then a person can represent nature before a court of law and can seek damages or prosecute persons who committed violations under the bill,” he adds.

The bill, touted as “revolutionary” among lawmakers, is expected to create a paradigm shift in existing environmental protection perspectives. Current Philippine laws on the environment are human-centered, Maderazo says, focusing on protecting the environmental rights of individuals but not of the environment itself. The RON bill presents a different perspective: nature gets legal protection because it’s recognized as a distinct legal entity that deserves legal representation. MORE

 

Environmentalism’s Next Frontier: Giving Nature Legal Rights

Ships and corporations have legal standing. Should ecosystems?

Matt Chinworth

In the summer of 2014, officials in Toledo, Ohio, announced that the city’s tap water was no longer safe to drink. A toxic algae bloom caused by fertilizer runoff had poisoned Lake Erie, the primary water source for the area’s half-million residents, sickening more than 100 people. Stores emptied of bottled water within hours. For three days, “it was just total panic,” recalls Markie Miller. “People were fighting over it.”

Miller joined Toledoans for Safe Water, a group of residents who had been trying to convince officials to clean up the lake, to no avail. Then, in late 2015, members of the group attended a presentation put on by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund about advancing the “rights of nature”—the idea that eco­systems, like humans, have legal rights.

After the presentation, some Toledoans met in a pub and drafted the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. This past February, voters chose to amend the city charter to grant the lake the right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.” The amendment allows any resident to sue governments or businesses that infringe upon the lake’s rights—for example, by polluting it with fertilizer.

Toledo isn’t the only place to recognize the rights of nature. In 2006, Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania, passed an ordinance to prohibit corporations from dumping waste sludge into nearby open-pit mines by mandating that any resident could sue to vindicate the “rights of natural communities and ecosystems.” Since then, more than three dozen communities across the United States have adopted similar measures. In 2018, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, a Native American nation in Minnesota, codified the rights of manoomin, or wild rice, to “flourish, regenerate, and evolve.” As Casey Camp-Horinek, an environmentalist and matriarch of the Ponca Nation in Oklahoma, points out, the rights-of-nature movement “simply recognizes what the indigenous people have always been a part of: the natural cycle of life belonging to all living things, not just humans.”

The White Earth Band of Ojibwe codified the rights of manoomin, or wild rice, to “flourish, regenerate, and evolve.”

Outside the United States, Ecuador wrote the rights of nature into its constitution in 2008. In 2017, a court in India ruled that the Ganges and Yamuna rivers have the same legal standing as people (the ruling was later overturned). The Whanganui, New Zealand’s longest navigable river, has legal standing under a law passed that same year.

Rights-of-nature laws often work by appointing a guardian to advocate for a particular ecosystem or natural feature, much like a parent represents a child’s interests in court. The guardian can sue on the ecosystem’s behalf. If the ecosystem is awarded damages, the money might go into a trust dedicated to funding its restoration. MORE

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A new constitution for the UK needs ‘rights of nature’ at its heart

Human rights are well established in constitutional and international law. But in the face of dangerous climate change and ecosystem collapse, do we need ‘rights of nature’?

The Ecuadorian constitution protects the rights of natureThe Ecuadorian constitution protects the rights of nature PXhere/CC0

Brexit has triggered a near complete breakdown in parliamentary government as discord and chaos reign within and between parties, as well as between executive (government) and legislature (House of Commons). It has brought the legislative work of Parliament to a halt and exposed the abject failure of our uncodified constitution to protect our rights, challenge an over powerful executive, and give clear guidance in the face of political deadlock. The celebrated flexibility of our ‘unwritten constitution’where we “make up the rules as we go along” has led us up a blind alley, with seemingly no way back.

Brexit is a full blown constitutional crisis. But there is a convergence with another seemingly unrelated but greater crisis bearing down on us: dangerous climate breakdown. Climate change has moved from an abstraction presented in graphs and bar charts to the visible, anxious face of schoolchildren demanding why their parents’ generation and politicians have done nothing to protect their future and that of the planet. The School Strike for Climate and Extinction Rebellion movement have joined a well-established movement of climate change activism; and their message has been given added force by the most recent U.N. report which has warned us that we have only 12 years to avert climate catastrophe.

It is the intersection between these two crises which demands whole scale system change, not merely a change of government or incremental democratic reform. In short, a rapid transfer to a zero carbon economy must be accompanied by a constitutional revolution that entrenches ‘rights of nature’ at its heart. Is this possible?

Yes. Take Ecuador, for example. Its constitution states the following: MORE

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US Capitalism Was Born in the Destruction of the Commons

The rise of the rights of nature

Image result for Share The rise of the rights of nature

A global movement to give nature rights is growing in the face of a mass extinction eventdriven by climate change and human over-use of the natural world.

Recent assessments show one third of freshwater fish species under threat of extinction alongside at least one quarter of local livestock breeds, and large numbers of the bees, bats and birds which pollinate crops. Linked to the decline of species, in the last two decades alone around 20 percent of the land we use to grow food has become less productive. Responding to these and other threats to nature, as well as high-profile campaigns like Extinction Rebellion, initiatives are increasingly taking root from the United States to India, and Ecuador to Bolivia, Turkey and Nepal, that give rights to nature.

They aim to respect and protect the living environment, and change how human society relates to its own supporting biosphere. In February 2019 voters in Toledo, Ohio, approved a ballot to give Lake Erie, suffering heavy pollution, rights normally associated with a person. But the story which brought this shift to international attention was the tale of a river in New Zealand.

On March 20th, 2017, the New Zealand government passed legislation recognizing the Whanganui River as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. The river – or those acting for it – will now be able to sue for its own protection under the law. This was no overnight innovation; it was the culmination of two centuries of physical and legal struggle by the Whanganui people against colonial control of the river and its water, including eight years of intensive negotiation.

The final settlement is considered one of the best examples of using existing legal structures and concepts to protect nature. It also prescribes an unusually advanced form of collaborative governance that may inspire others and prove useful for rapid transition in the face of climate change. Accepting a non human part of nature as a legal entity requires a conceptual shift away from placing humanity at the centre of everything. This understanding could generate other legal changes handing power to other parts of our natural world. MORE

Nature’s Rights Put to Vote in City ‘Fed Up’ With Poisoned Water

Algal Blooms Continue to Threaten Lake Erie Ecosystem

In two weeks the citizens of Toledo, Ohio, will go to the polls and decide whether to pass a legally dubious “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” to give residents the ability to sue farmers on behalf of algal-bloom-threatened Lake Erie.

Environmentalists say the novel city charter amendment will give citizens the power to do what Ohio politicians are afraid to do: take polluters to court and fight back against algal blooms that poisoned Toledo drinking water in 2013 and 2014.

The Feb. 26 vote from America’s industrial center, which largely went for President Donald Trump (R) in 2016, comes at a time when Democrat coalitions are coalescing around a Green New Deal in Congress.

But the move to endow natural resources with special “community rights” to sue has sunk everywhere else such laws were passed in the United States, and the activists behind Toledo’s move know they have precarious legal footing. MORE