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What Are The Rights of Nature?

Cody Peluso Aug 18, 2023

Imagine a court hearing where the plaintiff is not a person, but a damaged river, lake or mountain. The plaintiff is a sea turtle or a Mexican grey wolf. The plaintiff is nature itself. Imagine a world where nature, and all the living beings of the natural world, had universal rights to live a healthy life free from pollution, poaching, overcrowding and unnecessary killing. Imagine a world where nature is thriving, biodiversity is on the mend, and humans live in harmony with the natural world.

Sea turtles in Panama now have the legal right to live and have free passage in a healthy environment, a change that represents a different way of thinking about how to protect wildlife. Panama’s President signed a law in March recognizing the rights of sea turtles. It was a victory for people who have long argued that wild animals should have the same “rights of nature” that courts have granted to forests, mountains, rivers and other physical spaces. The concept amounts to recognizing an animal’s right to exist and flourish and allowing for lawsuits when those rights are violated.

Lawmakers have taken the first steps toward amending the constitution of the Caribbean island Aruba to include a recognition that nature possesses inherent legal rights like the right to exist and regenerate. If the process is successful, Aruba would become the world’s second country to constitutionally recognize the rights of nature. Ecuador enshrined the rights of Mother Earth, known there as Pachamama for the Andean goddess, in its 2008 constitution.

In Poland, a group of activists this week will complete the last leg of a 43-day-long march along the Oder River aimed at drawing attention to their campaign to grant the polluted ecosystem — which runs along the German-Polish border — the legal status of a person. 

Understanding the Rights of Nature: What Are The Rights of Nature?

In recent years, a groundbreaking concept has emerged that is revolutionizing our approach to environmental conservation – The Rights of Nature. This innovative perspective challenges the traditional notion of nature as a mere resource for human consumption and instead recognizes it as a living entity with inherent rights. The Rights of Nature movement seeks legal recognition and protection for ecosystems, and other natural entities such as rivers and forests, much like human rights.

At its core, The Rights of Nature movement aims to restore the intrinsic connection between humanity and the environment. Many Indigenous and coastal communities have long understood that the health of nature directly impacts our own wellbeing. Unfortunately, modern industrial societies have become increasingly disconnected from this symbiotic relationship, leading to the degradation of ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity. By legally acknowledging Nature’s right to exist and flourish, this movement strives to mend this disconnect and inspire a more harmonious coexistence.

According to the Global Alliance for The Rights of Nature, “It is the recognition that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights. Rights of Nature is about balancing what is good for human beings against what is good for other species, what is good for the planet as a world. It is the holistic recognition that all life, all ecosystems on our planet are deeply intertwined.”

The concept of granting legal rights to nature might seem unconventional, but it has gained significant traction globally. Numerous countries, including Ecuador, New Zealand, India, and Mexico, have enacted laws that recognize The Rights of Nature. These laws empower ecosystems to have a voice in legal proceedings, allowing them to be represented and protected in court. This shift in perspective not only safeguards our planet’s vital ecosystems but also presents a new approach to sustainable development, where economic progress is balanced with environmental preservation.

In a world where environmental challenges are mounting and the consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly evident, The Rights of Nature movement offers a fresh perspective on conservation. By acknowledging nature’s rights, we are  redefining our relationship with the environment and fostering a sense of responsibility toward preserving the Earth for future generations. As this movement continues to gain momentum, it prompts us to reconsider our role as stewards of the planet and advocates for a more sustainable and interconnected world.

Dominated by modern industrial societies, the intricate bond that once united humanity with nature seems to have unraveled. However, across the globe, Indigenous and coastal communities have sustained an ancient understanding – a realization that the well-being of nature directly influences their own. This profound relationship between humans and the environment is now being revived and given legal recognition through the transformative Rights of Nature movement. In this episode, we delve into the resurgence of this age-old concept and its remarkable impact on reshaping our approach to nature.

The Rediscovery of Nature’s Rights

As societies advanced and industrialized, the connection with the natural world was sacrificed for progress. Nature was viewed through a utilitarian lens, reduced to mere resources to satiate insatiable desires. The Rights of Nature movement, however, seeks to mend this disconnect by advocating for the acknowledgment of nature’s intrinsic right to exist and flourish. By granting nature a voice in legal frameworks, this movement aims to rekindle a harmonious relationship between humans and the Earth.

A Glimpse into Indigenous Wisdom

In an insightful interview with Rachel Bustamante and Diwigwi Valiente, the ancestral wisdom of Indigenous communities takes center stage. The Guna Indigenous community in Panama exemplifies an alternate perspective – one that perceives nature not as a commodity, but as a revered entity intertwined with their very identity. This perspective sheds light on the importance of recognizing the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature, where the health of one directly impacts the other.

Mutual Benefits of Recognizing Nature’s Rights

The Rights of Nature movement is not a one-sided endeavor. The recognition of nature’s rights yields a multitude of advantages, extending beyond the ecological realm. As we bestow legal significance upon nature, we also safeguard our own future. Ecosystems stabilize, natural resources replenish, and the delicate balance of life is preserved. By nurturing nature, we ensure a thriving planet for present and future generations.

Guardians of Biodiversity

Indigenous communities play a pivotal role in safeguarding biodiversity. Their intimate knowledge of the land, passed down through generations, serves as a beacon of sustainable coexistence. These communities act as stewards of the environment, employing time-honored practices to maintain the delicate equilibrium of ecosystems. The Rights of Nature movement honors and amplifies these guardians, reinforcing the need to learn from and collaborate with Indigenous wisdom.

The Rights of nature is a global movement

The profound impact of The Rights of Nature movement is evident on a global scale. Over 150 laws have been established worldwide, in countries such as Ecuador, New Zealand, India, and Mexico. These laws mark a shift towards recognizing nature as an entity deserving of protection and respect, a shift that transcends cultural and geographic boundaries. The movement unites humanity under a common goal: the restoration and preservation of our planet’s splendor.

In an era marked by escalating environmental concerns, the emergence of laws recognizing the Rights of Nature stands as a beacon of hope and innovation. These progressive legal frameworks mark a revolutionary departure from conventional environmental policies, paving the way for a profound transformation in the way we perceive and safeguard our planet.

The impact of these laws extends beyond mere legal recognition. They empower ecosystems with a voice, enabling them to participate in legal proceedings and ensuring their interests are heard and upheld. This monumental step marks a departure from the anthropocentric mindset that has long dominated environmental policies and fosters a more harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world.

The Rights of Nature movement, exemplified through these progressive laws, represents a significant stride towards a sustainable and interconnected future. As these legal frameworks gain momentum, they serve as a rallying cry for global collaboration in preserving the planet’s delicate ecosystems and biodiversity. By championing laws for the Rights of Nature, we embark on a transformative journey to safeguard the very foundation of life on Earth for generations to come.

The Rights of Nature movement is more than a legal concept; it is a transformative force reshaping humanity’s connection with the natural world. By acknowledging nature’s inherent rights, we embark on a journey of restoration, preservation, and harmony. As Indigenous communities guide us with their age-old wisdom, we stand at the cusp of a new era – one where humanity and nature coexist, flourish, and thrive in unison. Let us embrace this movement, not only for the sake of nature’s rights, but for the prosperity of our own existence.

In this episode of the Population 8 Billion podcast, we feature:

Rachel Bustamante is Conservation Science & Policy Analyst at Earth Law Center, which is building a force of advocates for Nature’s rights at local and international levels. They partner with local organizations to create new laws that recognize Rights of Nature to exist, thrive and evolve, including specific ecosystems, like rivers or the ocean. Rachel’s research and advocacy focuses on the intersections of biodiversity conservation, ocean policy and global environmental governance and justice.

Diwigdi Valiente is an Indigenous climate activist from the Guna people in Panama, social entrepreneur and the Director of Tourism Planning and Development at the Panamanian Ministry of Tourism. He specializes in the blue economy, regenerative tourism and the rights of indigenous people. In 2020, he was selected as one of the 10 young leaders of the future in Panama.

As we unpack, we uncover answers to the following questions:


Many Indigenous and coastal communities have respected and protected Nature for millennia, because they understood that Nature’s wellbeing also means their own. Our modern industrial societies, however, have lost this tie and become so disconnected from Nature that we have come to see it as an array of quarries, mines and fields to support our insatiable appetites. By legally recognizing Nature’s inherent right to exist and thrive and giving her a voice, the Rights of Nature movement tries to transform our relationship with Earth and help protect our imperiled ecosystems, with some proven successes already (over 150 laws worldwide so far, ranging from Ecuador, New Zealand, India and Mexico.)