Land Ordinances

Cities and towns around the United States are adopting laws and policies to recognize the human right to a healthy environment and the environment’s own right to be healthy. Nationwide, roughly three dozen communities have adopted local laws that protect the rights of nature, particularly from threats such as hydrofracking and mining. ELC's Earth Community map highlights many examples of such local laws. 


Advised by Earth Law Center and community groups, the City Council of Santa Monica unanimously passed in 2013 a Sustainability Rights Ordinance, which recognizes that “natural communities and ecosystems possess fundamental and inalienable rights to exist and flourish in the City of Santa Monica.” The Ordinance also articulates the rights of Santa Monicans to self-governance, a healthy environment, and sustainable living, and protects these rights from acts by corporate entities. Currently, Santa Monica leaders are examining the role that the Sustainability Rights Ordinance can play in providing extra protection to the City’s aquifer.



After co-founding the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance (BARoNA) in 2014, ELC is now working to formally establish rights of nature within San Francisco. Building off our successful Sustainability Rights Ordinance in Santa Monica, we hope to establish San Francisco as a global hub of rights of nature protections. 

Across the country, over 40 municipalities have already passed rights of nature laws thanks to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Movement Rights, and other partners. Many of these cities and towns have also declared their commitment to the Paris Agreement, to hold the increase in global temperature to under under 2 degrees Celsius. A rights of nature approach to protecting our climate calls for holding temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and absolutely no more than 2 degrees Celsius. 


Local communities must continue to fight the legal and economic system that prioritizes profit over the well-being of people and planet. By implementing the rights of nature and related human rights, we can create new paradigms that reward low-impact trade, locally-grown food, water use compatible with healthy river flows, close interaction with nature, and locally-owned businesses that enhance the well-being of human and natural neighbors.


To correct the environmental problems we face, we must fully understand their scope. Transparency is critical. We also must know who are allies are and reach out to them to work together in this shared effort. ELC maps the data on both problems and allies, to help focus and galvanize the support needed for success.