The Jondachi River in Ecuador. Tomas Munita, CIFOR

Who is applying rights-of-nature laws?

A look at six countries

Around the world, interest is growing in the rights-of-nature movement, which holds that nature has fundamental rights. This approach, some advocates say, could offer a new path toward sustainable development, based on the idea of living in harmony with nature.

In honor of Earth Day 2019, here are several examples of countries and local communities that are working to recognize the rights of nature.


The 2010 Law of the Rights of Mother Earth and the 2012 Framework Law of Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well recognize rights of Mother Earth to life, diversity of life, water, clean air and restoration. In 2010, Bolivia held the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, where a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth was issued. It has been submitted to the U.N. for consideration.


The Supreme Court of Colombia ruled in 2018 that the Colombian Amazon was a subject of rights and ordered that the government take action to protect it. This decision built on the Colombian Constitutional Court’s 2016 ruling that the Atrato River had legal personhood and the right to be protected, conserved and restored.


The 2008 Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador recognizes rights of Pacha Mama, or nature, which include respect for its existence, life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes, as well as restoration. Ecuador was the first country in the world to enshrine rights of nature in its constitution.


In 2018, the Uttarakhand High Court declared the animal kingdom (including avian and aquatic creatures) to be legal entities with the rights, duties and liabilities of a living person. An earlier decision from that court recognized rights for the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, but that decision has been stayed by the Supreme Court of India.

New Zealand

A treaty settlement agreement reached by Maori tribes and the New Zealand government led to a 2017 law that recognized the legal person Te Awa Tupua as an “indivisible and living whole, comprising the Whanganui River from the mountains to the sea.” This legal person has both rights and duties, including property rights in its riverbed.


Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania, passed a local ordinance in 2006 to recognize the rights of natural communities and ecosystems. Since, then, numerous other municipalities – including Grant Township, a tiny Pennsylvanian community of about 750 people – in various states have also recognized rights of nature. Some of these ordinances have been struck down by courts, however. Meanwhile, voters in Toledo, Ohio, passed a “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” earlier this year. It guarantees the lake and surrounding watershed rights “to exist, flourish and naturally evolve.” It hasn’t yet been tested in courts.

Source: A rights revolution for nature;




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