The Origin: What are the Rights of Nature? 

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By Francine Pauvif and Leslie Adams

A white grizzly bear with a fish. Biodiversity Rights Mother Earth Rights of Nature Canada

Photo by / par Barry Stemshorn

Globally, the Rights of Nature is becoming a familiar topic in many parts of the world. In Canada, we are starting to explore and discuss the Rights of Nature.  The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature has a working understanding of Rights of Nature that includes “the recognition and honoring that Nature has rights.  It is the recognition that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights.”  So, what does this mean? Are we legally able to sue nature? In short, no. Rights of Nature is about “balancing what is good for human beings against what is good for other species, what is good for the planet as a world.  It is the holistic recognition that all life, all ecosystems on our planet are deeply intertwined.” (Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature)

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Globally, understanding of the Rights of Nature is evolving. We know for instance that existing Indigenous laws and cultural understandings already established what might be considered rights of nature. With the deepening biodiversity crisis and the need to restore nature to mitigate the impacts of climate change, these laws could point to approaches that will more effectively protect nature than existing laws and colonial concepts. However, it is vital that in understanding and implementing laws concerning the rights of nature that Indigenous sovereignty and rights are respected, centred, and prioritized.

The environmental movement itself must ensure that in pursuing the rights of nature we do not enforce or perpetuate colonialist ideologies concerning natural conservation. You may ask yourself, why would we want to giving rights to nature? What’s the benefit of taking this route to protect our environment?

According to the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights, the Rights of Nature movement is a “fundamental shift in humankind’s relationship with nature: from one of use and exploitation, to one of care and protection.” (Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights) With the acknowledgement that we are not only in a climate crisis, but we are also facing a biodiversity crisis, it is time that we turn to new measures to protect our genes, species, and ecosystems. Perhaps, the rights of nature is the right way forward. Stay tuned.

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