Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ecuador voters approve rights of nature

On September 28, Ecuadorian voters approved a new constitution that is the first in the world to recognize legally enforceable ecosystem rights, or Rights of Nature.

The Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly developed the new constitutional provisions with the assistance of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which is pioneering similar work in the US by helping more than a dozen local municipalities in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Virginia with drafting and adopting similar laws.

"Ecuador is now the first country in the world to codify a new system of environmental protection based on rights," stated Thomas Linzey, CELDF's Executive Director.

Article 1 of the new "Rights for Nature" chapter of the Ecuador constitution reads: "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 bodies."

The Ecuadoran declaration is a departure from settled U.S. law, in that all of the major environmental laws in the U.S. - including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and similar state laws - treat nature as property, with no rights in and of itself. These laws legalize environmental harms by regulating how much pollution or destruction of nature can occur. Rather than preventing pollution and environmental destruction, these laws instead codify it.

The Rights of Natures laws developed by the Legal Defense Fund for local municipalities in the U.S. represent changes to the status of property law, eliminating the authority of a property owner to interfere with the functioning of ecosystems that exist and depend upon that property for their existence and flourishing. These local laws allow certain types of development that do not interfere with the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish.

These local laws - and now Ecuador's constitution - recognize that ecosystems possess the inalienable and fundamental right to exist and flourish, and that people possess the legal authority to enforce those rights on behalf of ecosystems. In addition, these laws require the governments to remedy violations of those ecosystem rights.

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