The Rights of Nature movement aims to give rivers, skies, and mountains the same legal rights as humans. In recent years, this movement has gained momentum, with several countries passing laws recognizing the Rights of Nature. However, implementing these laws has been difficult, and some courts have declared them to be “unconstitutionally vague”. In response to this issue, a recent review in Science examined the essential role that scientists can play in ensuring that these laws are effective.
The review examines laws in multiple countries focused on nature preservation and highlights Ecuador’s exceptional efforts in implementing Rights of Nature laws, which became part of its constitution in 2008. The momentous 2021 court ruling, which stopped mining exploration in the Los Cedros protected forest, was a significant accomplishment that incorporated scientific evidence presented by expert ecologists and biologists. This evidence included how mining could disrupt nature’s ecological functions, such as river flow and wildlife habitat, and therefore impede on the natural rights of that ecosystem to exist and thrive. Scientific evidence plays a crucial role in guiding environmental decisions and highlights the importance of following the Rights of Nature laws in promoting environmental preservation.
It is also crucial to acknowledge the environmental conservation efforts made by Indigenous communities, who have been the primary protectors of biodiversity. The strong presence of these communities in areas with established Rights of Nature laws is noteworthy. It is important to acknowledge and preserve indigenous ecological knowledge, while also incorporating Western science. By working together in partnerships between science and Indigenous communities, effective protection of the environment can be secured, and the Rights of Nature movement can be fostered.
This review was authored by Yaffa Epstein, researcher at Uppsala University, Faculty of Law, Uppsala, Sweden and visiting researcher at Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala, Sweden.
Managing Correspondent: Marwa Osman
Original Journal Article: Science and the legal rights of nature