Skip to content Skip to footer

The Revolution of Rights – Should Nature Have Standing?

There is no doubt that the global environmental crisis is only growing and that environmental law is still trying to find the best way to protect it. The concept of “rights of nature” was born in 1972, when Christopher Stone’s book titled “Should trees have standing-toward legal rights for natural objects?” was published. In the book, Stone argues that under the existing structure of law, nature was considered “right-less” and elaborates on why nature should have standing. Proponents of this idea are mentioning the rights of natural communities, ecosystems and other environmental entities, such as Mother Earth.

In 2009, led by the Plurinational State of Bolivia, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 22nd April “International Mother Earth day”. Later, in 2012, the Mother Earth Law was passed in Bolivia. The aim of this law is to “establish the vision and fundamentals of integral development in harmony and balance with mother Earth to Live well, guaranteeing the continued capacity of mother Earth to regenerate natural systems, recuperating and strengthening local and ancestral practices…”. In 2011, the first Rights of Nature lawsuits were decided in Ecuador under the conutry’s constitutional provisions, supporting the rights of ecosystems. In the following year, in New Zealand, the Whaganui River and it’s surrounding area gained the status of the legal person Te Awa Tupua, confirming Maori tribe’s spiritual connection to the river. Later, in 2017, the New Zealand’s Parliament finalised the Te Awa Tupua Act, granting the Whanganui River legal status as an ecosystem.

This revolution of rights of nature is now happening in Europe too – for example, in 2019, a group of politicians, lawyers and environmental activists in France published an article requesting for the Seine River to have legal personhood. Last year, national councilors from Switzerland presented an Initiative for the Rights of Nature to the Swiss Parliament requesting the recognition of a right to a healthy environment and Rights of Nature. Also, in 2021, Corsican citizens recognized the rights of the Tavignanu River, the first in France. In article “What if the Black Forest Owned Itself? A Constitutional Property Law Perspective on Rights of Nature”, Björn Hoops states that “in owning themselves, natural entities would have numerous tools to fend off human interference with their self-determination”.

Although this practice is still developing, the fact that natural entities’ rights could be recognized and that therefore they could seek restitution when harmed even in situations where they’re not explicitly protected by legal acts is promising. The obvious downside of this is that it is still not clear whether nature could be responsible or liable for the damages caused to humans if we give legal personhood to it. On the other hand, giving nature its rights could put an end to all forms of pollution and destruction of it. In the end, as Carl Sagan once said, the Earth is the only home we’ve ever known. Therefore, we should find the optimal way to protect living and thriving nature and the local and indigenous population, as they are the real protectors of nature.

Foto by Đorđe Vukojičić