Thursday, December 15, 2016

December 15, 2016 Update - United Nations Office, Geneva Switzerland - 2016 Scientific Research Conference

Today's focus was the Rights of Nature. To those of you in the United States, this may sound strange but on the global front this topic has been getting quite a bit of attention.

As a quick summary, the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature sums it up as follows:
"Rights of Nature is 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. 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. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And we – the people –  have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems.  The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant."
Several countries have passed laws in respect to the rights of nature. For example, Ecuador rewrote its constitution to add the rights of nature. The "Law of the Rights of Mother Earth"  is a Bolivian law that was passed by Bolivia's Plurinational Legislative Assembly in December 2010. New Zealand is another country has been on the leading edge of the Rights of Nature, and our neighbor to the north, Canada, is now also exploring the possibilities. Likewise, local efforts are also underway in India, Nepal, Australia, Cameroon, Colombia, the United States, and other countries on the Rights of Nature.
In the United States, while the concept hasn't had a lot of attention nationwide, it has in some communities. For example, in Pittsburgh, PA in 2010, the city passed an ordinance to ban hydrofracking within the city. Likewise, across the US a variety of issues such as toxic waste, biosolids or sewage sludge application, and mineral extraction, have provided the impetus for similar ordinances. Santa Monica, CA added the recognition of Rights of Nature to the City's Sustainable City Plan. While all the ordinances are different, there are three key elements are: 
  • Reasserting the community's rights to decide what goes on within their community; 
  • Limiting corporate personhood rights, and 
  • Recognizing the rights of natural communities or Nature.

Overall, the premises of the Rights to Nature law are as follows:
  • Recognizes that Nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital, integral cycles.
  • Natural ecosystems can be named as a rights bearing subject. 
  • Humans and government agencies have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of natural systems. 
  • Damages are granted specifically to restore the ecosystem. 
  • Codifies the concept of sustainable development by disallowing activities that would interfere with the functioning of the natural systems that support human and natural life.
  • Is not the same as human rights to nature.
There is also an effort underway for the United Nations to make a declaration concerning the "Rights of Nature". We'll probably see more about this in 2018. 

Tonight there's a dinner at the Botanical Gardens which basically wraps up our work here in Geneva. So I'm off to say "Au Revoir" to my newly discovered colleagues from around the world. 

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