Tag Archives: Rights of Nature

No rights of nature, no reducing emissions: REDD, el buen vivir, and the standing of forests

By Jeff Conant and Anne Petermann

NOTE: This article is excerpted from the report “Rights of Nature: Planting the Seeds of Real Change” published by Global Exchange, June, 2012

 “For my people, the forest is sacred, it is life in all its essence. We can protect Pachamama only if this is respected. REDD and other market mechanisms have turned our relationship with forests into a business.” – Marlon Santi, leader of the Sarayaku Quichua community of Ecuador

Forests have always been valued by human societies for a multitude of uses and non-uses. Among them, the practical-use value of shade and shelter, thatch and timber, fuel wood, food and medicine; the ecological value of capturing, storing and filtering water, producing oxygen, and harboring biodiversity; as well as the spiritual value of their mere existence, for which Indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities have prayed and held ceremony since the dawn of time.

Today, with the emergence of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes, the use value and the ecological value of forests have collided to eclipse all other value they may have, and any other values that human societies may place on them. While the emerging PES schemes pretend to shift the paradigm away from extractive approaches to resource use, they have one important feature in common with other uses that industrial society has for forests: the further you are from the forest, the greater the economic value it has — and the greater the potential for forest destruction.
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Filed under Carbon Trading, False Solutions to Climate Change, Green Economy, REDD

Bubble-wrapping nature against corporate greed

Note: This blog post was written by Meera Karunananthan of the Council of Canadians about the strategy meeting on the Rights of Nature held this past weekend in San Francisco.  GJEP Executive Director Anne Petermann was one of the attendees.

–The GJEP Team


Cross-Posted from Rabble-CA, AUGUST 2, 2011

As an environmental justice campaigner in North America, sometimes I feels like I am operating in a bubble.

I am in San Francisco in the midst of a national “debate” on the U.S. debt, in a bubble at the Global Exchange headquarters where environmental activists have gathered from across the country to discuss the need for a paradigm shift with regards to our relationship with the environment.

Three months after the launch of the book The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, by the Council of Canadians, Global Exchange and Fundacion Pachamama, a meeting took place in San Francisco this weekend to discuss next steps including joint strategies for the climate talks in Durban and the Rio + 20 Earth Summit in 2012.

Convened by Global Exchange, the meeting brought together representatives from organizations working to advance the rights of nature in communities around the world. Among them, la Fundacion Pachamama, an organization that played a central role in making Ecuador the first country to officially recognize the rights of nature within its constitution.

While Natalia Greene of Pachamama talked about the challenges of implementing this ground-breaking legislation, the rights of nature has created the space for communities to demand greater protection for the environment in a country with powerful foreign oil and mining interests. Although the Ecuadorean government has been inconsistent in its recognition of environmental rights, communities like the Waorani have been successful in keeping Brazilian oil giant Petrobras out of the Yasuni rainforest, one of the most biodiverse forests on earth by getting the government to establish a “no extraction zone” within an area containing rich oil deposits.

Constitutional change seems light years away in countries like Canada and the United States.

As the U.S. corporate media scrambles to determine who won the national debt debate in Washington, there is little doubt about who is losing. The wealthiest Americans will see little change, while the rest of the country deals with trillions of dollars in cuts to social programs or “entitlements” as the Republicans refer to them.


In the midst of these discussions on how to protect corporate profits while slashing programs to protect vulnerable segments of society, the case for communities to develop strategies against corporate destruction of the environment is even more poignant.

There have been 125 municipal ordinances recognizing the rights of nature that have enabled communities to stand up to corporate destruction of their land, air and water. Most recently, Pittsburgh stopped hydraulic fracturing by passing a community bill of rights. It is what, Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defence Fund refers to as stripping corporations of their privileges. CELDF and Global Exchange have worked with communities across the United States to challenge corporate-friendly policies at the state and federal levels.

Rights of nature and water

Applied to water, the rights of nature approach calls for the protection of natural cycles of lakes, rivers, aquifers against harmful human activity. Many of the municipal ordinances have been used to protect surface and ground water from irreversible damage through hydraulic fracturing, groundwater extraction, toxic sludge spreading and other large scale industrial projects. In addition to ordinances banning harmful activities, there have been bills promoting sustainability enabling community to set forth policies promoting food sovereignty and self sufficiency. Santa Monica’s bill of rights has enabled water recycling and grey water use, which would otherwise be illegal according to state law, says Shannon Biggs of Global Exchange.

Last week, the Council of Canadians and its allies celebrated the one-year anniversary of the official recognition of water as a human right at the United Nations General Assembly. In our work to see this right implemented in national legislation, we will stress the need to recognize the human as a component of the natural world. Water is fundamental to all life and beyond human consumption; it is central to the rights of all other species to exist and flourish. As we have emphasized on numerous occasions, the right to water and sanitation will need to take into account the sustainable use of watersheds to ensure the protection of lakes, rivers, aquifers and the species that depend on them. We reject anthropocentric approaches and shortsighted measures to address water and sanitation needs like desalination which poses a threat to oceanic life.

Market mechanisms

Much of the discussion focused on the tensions between market mechanisms that call for the environment to be regulated by pricing mechanisms and the rights of nature paradigm. An earth-centred approach does not allow corporations to pay to pollute or abuse the environment. In recent years, corporations have partnered with environmental NGOs to promote such strategies as water offsets enabling multinationals like Coca Cola to gain PR points by destroying the environment in one part of the world while promoting conservation efforts elsewhere, proclaiming themselves “water neutral.” Water offsets, carbon trading and other market mechanisms have attempted to artificially quantity environmental damage by downplaying the impacts of damaging local ecosystems.

Anne Petermann of the Global Justice Ecology Project refers to this as “corporations trying to maintain business as usual by co-opting green discourse.”

So perhaps the strategy is not to step outside the bubble to attempt dialogues with those who will continue to strengthen the mechanisms of global capitalism that are responsible for the environmental crisis, but to expand and strengthen our bubble. To create bubbles in the form of no extraction zones, local bills of rights and municipal ordinances that keep corporate greed out of our communities.

Meera Karunananthan

Meera Karunananthan is the national water campaigner at the Council of Canadians.

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Filed under Carbon Trading, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Corporate Globalization, Greenwashing, Water

Mother Nature has rights, say speakers

Note: I just returned from a strategy meeting in San Francisco on ways to use the “Rights of Mother Earth” as a tool for advancing justice and opposing false and market-based solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises.  Natalia Greene, of Fundación Pachamama, quoted below, was one of the participants.  While there are a lot of divergent opinions on the best ways to utilize this tool, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, has been using it to marked success in stopping fracking in Pennsylvania.  CELDF assisted the Congress of Ecuador in creating their new constitution, which recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples and Nature, and strips corporations of the rights of personhood.

–Anne Petermann, for the GJEP Team

Cross-Posted from The Saint Albert Gazette, Alberta, Canada, July 30, 2011

Local youth hear about Earth’s legal rights

By Kevin Ma |

In Ecuador, Mother Nature can take you to court.

It’s right in the country’s constitution, says Natalia Greene, who spoke to about 200 local youth at the University of Alberta this week, and it’s one of the many ways that indigenous knowledge can help us protect water.

“Nature is a slave right now,” she says.

While there are laws that ban pollution, those laws all treat nature as an object to be used by people. In 2008, her country became the first in the world to explicitly recognize the rights of nature in its constitution — an idea that came from Ecuador’s indigenous population.

Nature is like a plane, she says, and if we keep taking parts out of it, eventually it will crash.

“We are a part of nature,” she says. “If we don’t respect nature, we’re not respecting our rights.”

Aboriginal lessons

Greene is an environmentalist with the Fundación Pachamama in Ecuador, a group that helped rewrite the country’s constitution in 2008. She was one of many speakers in Edmonton this week to take part in the Global Youth Assembly, a youth conference meant to promote justice and human rights.

Ecuador is home to the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos Islands, Greene says, and puts great value on its biodiversity. Recent deforestation and oil spills have caused the nation to rethink the nature of development.

Ecuador has about 14 different nationalities, many of which have close relations with nature. When Greene and other negotiators spoke to indigenous groups during constitutional talks, they realized that these people viewed nature as a person — a concept foreign to Western law.

“The judicial system we had developed with had forgotten nature,” she says.

Canada’s aboriginals have a similar view of nature, notes Danika Littlechild, a lawyer from the Ermineskin Cree Nation near Hobbema who specializes in water governance. The Cree word for “water” is “nipiy,” which is short for a phrase that means “I am life.”

“When you say ‘water’ in [Cree], you know it is alive,” said Littlechild, who also recalled one meeting where the elders actually brought water from a local water body to act as a representative of nature at the negotiations.

Nature goes to court

Ecuador decided to give nature the highest legal protection possible by putting it in its constitution, Greene says. The constitution makes specific reference to Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and says that nature is subject to all the rights outlined in it. It also allows any resident to take the government to court on behalf of nature if he or she feels its rights have not been defended.

The first big test of this law came in the case of the Vilcabamba River last March, Greene says. A company had been building an illegal road by the river for three years, and had dumped so much rock into it that it had actually changed its course, causing floods. When a local group took the government to court over its inaction, the judge ordered the company to get the permits needed for the development and to repair the harm it had done.

The law hasn’t chased investors out of Ecuador, Greene says, as all it does is ask them to develop responsibly. But the government has been backsliding on it lately, as it was seeking mines and oil development for money to fund social programs.

About 100 American communities have now recognized the rights of nature, she notes, including Pittsburgh. She encouraged delegates to lobby their own governments and get the conversation about nature’s rights started.

“We need to have people understand that we are part of nature,” she says.

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Biodiversity, Climate Justice, Corporate Globalization, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean