Nature’s Constitution

Quietly last Monday, the Ecuadorian Constitutional Assembly changed the world. Seriously. As the report below shows, they approved legislation that would transform the planet, and ecosystems, from mere things into entities with legal rights to exist and flourish. It’s the sort of thing that will give jurisprudence something to work on for a good long while.

The reason I find it all particularly exciting is that it takes the idea of individual human rights, and gives them to entities systems that are hard to define either as individual or human. As to what this means in practice, and whether it’s adopted in the final constitution, we’ll have to see. But as to what this means in theory, it’s already revolutionary. More below the fold.

Ecuador: Nature Has Rights

Climate and Capitalism
July 10, 2008

Ecuadorian Assembly Approves Constitutional Rights for Nature

On July 7, the 130-member Ecuador Constitutional Assembly, elected countrywide to rewrite the country’s Constitution, voted to approve articles that recognize rights for nature and ecosystems.

“If adopted in the final constitution by the people, Ecuador would become the first country in the world to codify a new system of environmental protection based on rights,” says Thomas Linzey, Executive Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

The following clauses will be included in the constitution that will be submitted to a countrywide vote, to be held 45 days after Assembly finishes its work later this month:

Chapter: Rights for Nature

Art. 1. Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.

Art. 2. Nature has the right to an integral restoration. This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems.

In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation on non-renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.

Art. 3. The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.

Art. 4. The State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.

The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.

Art. 5. The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and form natural wealth that will allow wellbeing.

The environmental services cannot be appropriated; its production, provision, use and exploitation, will be regulated by the State.

“Public organisms” in Article 1 means the courts and government agencies, i.e., the people of Ecuador would be able to take action to enforce nature rights if the government did not do so.