Global Assembly

Rights of Nature

 

Global Assembly

Rights of Nature

Introduction

by Imke Horstmannshoff & Barbara Unmüßig

We have long since exceeded planetary boundaries: the climate catastrophe is a reality, ecosystems and biodiversity sustained lasting damage, we are overexploiting soils, deforesting the land and overfishing the oceans, and in every part of the planet we find microplastics, with all their havoc for human, plant and animal health. 

The climate catastrophe and the massive loss of biodiversity are the most accentuated expressions of massively disturbed human-nature relationships.

For a long time, it has been clear to us: to face these challenges, profound economic, social, institutional and cultural changes are needed. 

Utopia and legal practice

'Rights of Nature' are one of several such projects with a potentially transformative effect on human-nature relationships. The idea of recognising natural entities - just like people, but also organisations and companies - as legal entities and thus granting them rights may seem absurd or utopian. However, it already represents an existing legal practice in many countries around the world.

This way, Rights of Nature are meant to counteract the current imbalance of power between human and economic interests - as substantiated by law - on the one hand, and those of ecosystems and non-human beings on the other, and to achieve more effective protection of the environment, ideally 'on its own terms'. 

Local and global movement

Around the world, a wide range of actors from the Global South and North are campaigning for this idea, on local to transnational levels: from representatives of indigenous peoples to lawyers and scientists to activists as well as - where Rights of Nature are already in place - state institutions.

Their potential 'clients': Rivers, mountain peaks or entire ecosystems, from the Ecuadorian cloud forest to New Zealand's Whanganui River to Bavaria's 'natural environment'.

How can Rights of Nature be implemented, and where are they already in place? What fundamental questions and tensions arise? Who is campaigning for them around the world? And what is needed to foster fertile debates on Rights of Nature today?