Mother Nature's right to live

The Daily Star
September 7th, 2016
Moyukh Mahtab

In 2008, Ecuador codified the principle of Rights of Nature in its Constitution, recognising that ecosystems have an inalienable right to exist and flourish. “Nature, or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes,” reads Article 71 of the Constitution. Not only does the Constitution set out in detail the rights of nature, it states that “persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature.”

Article 72 on the other hand states that “In those cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including those caused by the exploitation of non-renewable natural resources, the State shall establish the most effective mechanisms to achieve the restoration and shall adopt adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate harmful environmental consequences.”

Going a step further, New Zealand has now granted legal personhood to its Te Urewara National Park. In effect, what this means is that now the national park, a verdant forested landscape, possesses the same rights and powers as that of a citizen. Like the Constitution of Ecuador, this legislation gives stronger rights to nature: to protect its rights, cases can be filed on its behalf. The same is true for the Whanganui River. And, as should be, nobody, not even the government can 'own' them. As Pita Sharples, former minister of Maori Affairs put it: “This is a profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world.” 

As environmental concerns over the world grow, the examples of Ecuador and New Zealand come as a sweet surprise. The balance between consumption and exploitation of nature and its preservation have been strongly on the side of the former, and with passing time the threat of harming biodiversity and disrupting the ecosystem continues to grow to epic proportions. A recent study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which involved 1,203 scientists, hundreds of scientific institutions and more than 160 governments, unequivocally stated that already the degradation of natural resources worldwide is outpacing the nature's ability to absorb that damage (Humans damaging the environment faster than it can recover, UN find, The Guardian). It goes without saying that the need to act to protect them is crucial, now more than ever.

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