United Nations

The United Nations and its members have focused on “sustainable development” as a way to address the world's environmental problems. This does not go far enough. The concept of sustainable development, however, reinforces the idea that people must continuously and forever develop a finite Earth to achieve well-being. The term “sustainable” fails to slow this development race, and nature suffers as a result. Nature is not just a source of capital to feed the economy; nature has rights we must respect. 

How should we conduct our lives in an era of growing scarcity? Only a governance system that acknowledges our place in relation with, rather than dominant over, the natural world will address ongoing environmental devastation. 

In our work at the United Nations and in related international forums, Earth Law Center advocates for policy grounded in a more powerful worldview called “thriving communities,” which includes both humans and the natural world. This worldview seeks to promote not only sustainability, but a flourishing of people and nature, together.

Here are some of our contributions:

  • At the request of the U.N., provided detailed edits to the Concept Note and Final Report for the U.N. General Assembly's April 2015 Dialogue on Harmony with Nature (incorporating discussion of the importance of nature's rights). The U.N. subsequently adopted a new resolution that establishes a committee of experts in Earth Jurisprudence to meet through an invite-only dialogue and prepare an expert report to the U.N. on the application of Earth Jurisprudence.  Launched on Earth Day 2016, ELC has served in a leadership role in the development of this dialogue and report.
  • We addressed the United Nations as an invited expert witness on Earth Day 2013, at the “Interactive Dialogue of the General Assembly on Harmony with Nature to Commemorate Mother Earth Day.” Along with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other speakers, we advocated for the rights of nature in law, economics, and governance. On Earth Day 2014, ELC moderated the United Nations debate on harmony with nature; see here for the video.
  • Subsequent to each of these U.N. Dialogues, we successfully advocated for nature’s rights language in the U.N. Dialogues’ reports, which were later adopted unanimously by the assembled nations. The United Nations builds its international development agreements and environmental strategies in part on these “Harmony with Nature” reports. 
  • As a results of the work done at the U.N., ELC was invited to provide expert guidance in Ecuador to decision-makers within the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, made up of the eight Amazon Basin nations. ELC addressed these national leaders in Tena, Ecuador on the growing worldwide movement for nature's rights, in support of Ecuador's and Bolivia's legal leadership in this area.
  • In June 2012 we participated in the once-in-a-generation United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or “Rio +20,” in Rio de Janeiro. Earth Law Center challenged the conference’s focus on “sustainable development” and the “green economy.” We emphasized that “the economy must be viewed as serving human and environmental communities, not the reverse.” There, ELC led or participated in nine conference workshops advancing rights of nature. In part as a result of ELC’s advocacy, the U.N.’s final Outcome Document formally recognized the nature's rights laws in several countries. This consensus U.N. agreement helps lay the foundation for future national and international initiatives to recognize the inherent rights of nature in law. The parallel Rio +20 “People’s Summit” of global advocates went further, calling for a “guarantee of...the rights of nature” and for “a convention for protecting the rights of Mother Earth....”

ELC forged new partnerships with advocates for the human right to water worldwide at the World Water Forum and Alternative Water Forum in Marseille in March 2012. At both events, we addressed waterways’ rights to flow and the harm caused by the false “green economy.” Hundreds of organizations attending the Alternative Forum joined in a Declaration calling for “the creation and recognition of the rights of nature” to protect the biosphere and all Earth's inhabitants. ELC followed this effort up at the Rio +20 People’s Summit, where water advocates called for recognizing both human rights to water and the environment's own rights to water.

Important Update:

The U.N. has just released a new report from global experts on Earth Jurisprudence: http://bit.ly/UNHwN. ELC was the Global Facilitator for the Earth-Centered Law analysis and recommendations in the report, and ELC’s Earth Law course at Vermont Law School was featured. Among other findings and recommendations, the experts found we must “include the rights of Nature in our governance systems.”

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