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Wild side of the law

It may sound far-fetched, but a powerful tool to combat climate change is giving nature --our “neighbour” -- legal rights. Environmental lawyers Begonia Filgueira and Ian Mason explain.

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If societies express their values through the laws they make, one single legal change would completely transform our understanding of the ­relationship between nature and humankind: giving nature rights. And that change would be our best weapon in fighting climate change because it would give nature a voice on how we regulate the earth.

The idea of “wild law” has been around since the 1960s, when writers questioned whether trees should have standing. But now enacting those ideas is a matter of our survival on this planet.

Laws that recognise the world as a legal person with rights and remedies that can be enforced nationally and internationally would create a duty of care towards the environment. It is strange that we have a duty of care towards our “neighbour”, but that in law nature is not considered our neighbour. If we value the natural world we need for life, we can prove it by giving it and its components – rivers, forests, species, habitats, ecosystems – sufficient standing in law to enable proceedings to be brought on their behalf. Our legal system already does this for “non-­persons” such as companies, charities, clubs and others.

Give the sea rights, and overfishing would not be a matter of quotas set by governments but of balancing the rights of fish and humans. If the atmosphere could be a legal entity, its representative would have a say in carbon trading. A river with a right to flow continually being harmed by damming would require the courts to intervene in deciding whether the human need is greater than that of the river to subsist.

This is not as far fetched as it sounds. It is entirely consistent with the 1982 UN World Charter for Nature, ratified by more than 150 United Nations members but lacking enforcement mechanisms to give it real teeth. It is the logical outcome of its 2002 successor, the Earth Charter.

Practically, how do we do this? British courts could expand the definition of who our neighbour is to include nature and thus create a legal duty of care toward the earth. At European Union level, we then pass a declaration of nature’s rights, which would, like the declaration of human rights, be implemented by each of the member states in an Earth Rights Act like our Human Rights Act. This would be enforced by our national courts and influence the regulators’ decision-making.

Internationally, we need to refocus what is contained in the World Charter for Nature, which sets out “human duties towards the earth”, and create “earth rights”. Any declaration needs to be coupled with giving enforcement powers to our international institutions; otherwise the declaration will create positive debate but not be effective.

Language is a powerful tool, and we want to stop talking about the planet as a “resource”. There has to be a better understanding of how humans affect the planet – so teach people where their plastic water bottle ends up and where their food comes from. We can also redefine the “public interest” to include the interest of nature.

Some would argue granting rights is only part of the solution, but it will cause the shift in thinking we require to decarbonise our society. As Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel peace prize, said: “The need to forge a new and healthier relationship between the human race and the planet that sustains us could not be more urgent.” Let’s not be known as the “age of stupid” but as the age that walked on the wild side of the law and brought radical change to the way we think about law and about nature to stave off the perfect storm.

Begonia Filgueira and Ian Mason are co-authors of the report Wild Law by the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) and the Gaia Foundation.


Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

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匿名 | Anonymous



The Earth's rights

This kind of creativity is pretty good. For human beings, the earth is not any more a simple provider of public products and it begins to have rights of its own. The problem is, few are aware of these natural rights, let alone respect them.

Translated by Ming Li

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



All things have souls, harmony between man and nature

The concept that everything in the world has a soul belongs to an eastern philosophy that attributes human emotions -- such as happiness, rage, sorrow and joy -- to plants and animals. I am not here to promote blind worship or chase after the perfection of primitive society. However, only after one understands the idea that everything possesses life will they cherish or tenderly love these things and share the world with a humble and indebted heart.

Translated by Ming Li

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


很棒的想法, 为大自然立法。那么谁来替大自然说话呢?除了人类还有谁?可是一旦是人为的,不免是要考虑人类自己的利益的。如此说来,并不能很彻底地站在大自然的角度来说话。所以我不免有些怀疑这里头的矛盾。

Who will speak up for nature?

It’s a great idea to legislate in consideration of the rights of nature. So who will speak on behalf of nature? Besides humans, who else can do this? However, once something is made by humans, it will inevitably act in consideration of the interests of humans. This shows that we cannot thoroughly speak from the point of view of nature. Therefore, I cannot help but suspect that there are some contradictions here.

Translated by Afra Tucker